The art of taking initiative

Are you or your teams feeling stuck and unmotivated at work? These concrete tips can help you change things in the workplace.

The Surdek Team
January 22, 2024
Aziz acharki Hs Xg Rl Ir4 Ls unsplash

Do you feel like your teams are stuck in a rut in your workplace? Like the same things keep happening over and over again? In some contexts where there is resistance to change from those around you, it can be normal to feel that way from time to time.

However, the thing that can happen is that as a leader, you become demotivated and disengaged. This in turn creates an environment where your teams struggle with motivation and engagement, as the same old thing keeps happening again and again.

A big part of developing yourself as a leader is being an agent of change in the workplace. In this article, we will do a deep dive into what it means to take initiative to change things around you, and what are some concrete steps you can take to do it.

Let's start with an anecdote to illustrate

One of our clients had a new boss come into her department with an old school, "my way or the highway" mindset. This new boss was not adapting to this newer part of the organization that had a more self-organized, independent approach.

Understandably, our client had been struggling with this new boss for a while. She felt that she was powerless and stuck. She was trying to take initiatives but it was not going anywhere. She was becoming more and more disillusioned with her role. How can you bring change in this situation?

As Steffan would say, it is all about the conversations that you have. Are you setting boundaries or are you saying yes to everything the boss throws your way? If you are saying yes, the boss will only ask more of the same from you.

Sometimes what you need is a shift in perspective. It is entirely possible to say no to your boss. It is also possible to have a conversation about how you like to be managed.

That said, taking initiative involves a little bit more than being proactive about whatever you feel needs to change. It is also about approaching it with strategic thinking to play the long game.

This is where some of the five key skills of co-creative leadership come in. Here are four of those skills and concrete tips on how to use them to take initiative.

1. Start dancing with the system around you

Your organization is a big system, and your team is another system. Changing things may seem like turning the Titanic around. It takes time and patience! This is why you can approach taking initiatives not as one big flashy dance solo you do once, but as a series of small tango steps that accrue over time.

What is one thing that you can inject into the system — one tiny dance step that you can take to see how the system reacts and adjusts? What this skill involves is you testing the adaptability in your workplace.

As a leader, it also means you need to stay open and curious to how people respond. Flexibility is crucial here. This means you are willing to listen to feedback and make your next dance move based on that feedback. Be prepared to adjust your initiatives or pivot to something new according to what happens, instead of being stuck with your plan. This is what it means to dance with the system around you.

In our earlier example with the old-school boss, think about it this way. How could you dance with the situation to make it change? What is the first tiny baby step you could take to help your boss develop the ability to let go?

2. Unleash the leaders around you

Co-creative leaders have this uncanny skill. They recognize disengaged people with leadership potential and help them tap into that potential to grow into leaders. This is what we call unleashing the leaders around you.

Sometimes, this means that you need to unleash yourself! When other people do not unleash you, you have to do it yourself. It is up to you to develop the leadership potential that is dormant within you.

This means looking at your team or yourself and reflecting. Where are you holding back? Are you waiting on permission to do things? If so, take this as an invitation to empower yourself and your team.

Going back to our first anecdote: our client could break her own leash by being empowered to take a first step. She could request a meeting with her new boss to discuss their respective expectations in the way they work.

3. Build capacity for yourself and others

Taking initiative and bringing change can only happen if you grow your leadership and the people on your teams grow as well. Co-creative leaders understand and help team members build these new skills so that change is sustained in the long term. This is what we call building capacity on your team.

Building capacity, like dancing with the system, is not a one-time job. It takes time to do and involves a lot of soft skills, like noticing and patience. This is why you need to practice — a lot!

In our example with the new boss, our client realized that she was unsure about how to have this conversation with her boss. She needed to build up some of her own capacity to do it. To help her prepare, we practiced this conversation with her so that she could explore what she would say and how she would say it.

4. Experiment and learn by doing

Co-creative leaders know that the best way to start doing something is by doing small experiments and learning from them. Avoid thinking about what to do for days, weeks or even months and getting stuck.

It is about learning as you go, instead of thinking up a whole scenario in advance. Use your experiences as learning tools and be willing to adapt, grow and improve.

To start, ask yourself: considering your resources, what is the smallest thing you can try right now that will get the biggest impact or greatest learning experience without disrupting your team?

Take this as an opportunity to live test your ideas on you, your boss, whoever is around you. Going back to our client, she started to practice clearly communicating her needs, expectations and boundaries with different people around her, even in simple conversations like ordering coffee.

Conclusion

You cannot change everything in your organization from one day to the next. There are many things you can do though to steer the ship in the right direction.

Modern workplace environments are complicated systems. Develop your ability to dance with this system by staying flexible and adapting your moves to evolving situations.

Find ways to put yourself and people on your team in situations that help them step into their leadership. Unleashing dormant leaders, when done effectively, leads to personal and team development.

Change also means building the capacity on your team to adapt to this new initiative. You can achieve this by helping them learn new skills. Encourage learning by doing, where small-scale experiments allow you to learn as you go along.

As leaders, the art of taking initiative is a complex ability. It combines your soft skills, your co-creative leadership and your understanding of how your organization works. Being an agent of change is an opportunity to develop your leadership and create more exciting initiatives!

What initiative could you start taking today within your teams? How powerful could it be to take one small step?