Leadership Quality #10: Initiative – You Won’t Leave Home Without it

Of all the things a leader should fear, complacency should head the list.

Initiative isn’t only about connecting with followers, it’s also about actively looking for opportunities and being ready to take action.

What supports you in being able to make this happen?

  1. Knowing what you want – there is no way one can be both indecisive and effective. Napoleon Hill said, “The starting point of all achievement is desire.” If you’re going to be an effective leader, you’ve got to know what you want. That’s the only way you’ll recognise opportunity when it comes along.
  2. Push yourself to act – “You can if you will”. Initiators don’t wait for others to motivate them. They know it’s their responsibility to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. And they make it a regular practice.
  3. Take more risks – when leaders know what they want and can push themselves to act, they still face another hurdle, that’s the willingness to take risks. Proactive people always take risks. One of the reasons good leaders are willing to take risks is that they recognise there is a price for not initiating. So whilst there are risks and costs to a programme of action, these are often far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.
  4. Make more mistakes – The good news for initiators is that they make more things happens. The bad news is they make lots of mistakes. IBM Founder Thomas Watson recognised that when he remarked: “The way to succeed is to double your failure rate”. So the game is to not let the mistakes bother you.


Are you an initiator? Are you constantly on the lookout for opportunity, or do you wait for it to come to you? Are you willing to take steps based on your best instincts? Or do you endlessly analyse everything?

“Even the right decision is the wrong decision if it’s made too late” – Lee Iacocca, former Chrysler chairman

When was the last time you initiated something significant in your life? If you haven’t pushed yourself lately and gotten out of your comfort zone, you may need to jump start your initiative.

To improve your initiative, do the following:

  • Change your mindset – If you lack initiative, recognise that the problem comes from inside, not from others. Determine why you hesitate to take action. Does risk scare you? Are you discouraged by past failures? Do you not see the potential that opportunity offers? Find the source of your hesitation and address it. You won’t be able to move forward on the outside until you can move forward on the inside.
  • Don’t wait for opportunity to knock – Opportunity doesn’t come to the door knocking..you’ve got to go out and look for it. Take stock of your assets, your talents, and resources. Doing that will give you an idea of your potential. Now spend every day for a week looking for opportunities. Where do you see needs? Who is looking for expertise you have? What unreached group of people is practically dying for what you have to offer? Opportunity is everywhere.
  • Take the next step – It’s one thing to see opportunity. It’s another to do something about it. Everyone has a great idea in the shower. But only a few people step out, dry off and do something about it. Be that person! Pick the best opportunity you see and take it as far as you can. Don’t stop until you’ve done everything you can to make it happen.

It will take a bold step from you today to reach your potential tomorrow.

Right now, stop and write down the best opportunities you can see and put time into your diary to take them further.

It’s easy in South Africa right now to see what’s not working and what the challenges are; this is the time for courage and initiative, two things we are known for.

Part 10 of our Leadership Series: Leadership is an Inside Job, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader


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