To Succeed at Your Job, Know When to Take the Initiative

One of the most important things to determine in any job is the expected level of initiative.

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Michael Wade
One of the most important things to determine in any job is the expected level of initiative. By “expected,” I don’t mean the level that management says it wants–many micro-managers can speak eloquently of the virtues of initiative–but instead, the level that is rewarded versus that which is discouraged.

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Some restrictions must not be ignored. These may relate to safety, legal or political concerns and gliding past them can attract great peril. You either have to wait for orders or push for clearance before proceeding. This can be a real danger zone for people who like to operate on their own.

For other activities, you will be permitted to take action to deal with an immediate concern, but then it is expected that you’ll quickly bring your boss or some other appropriate authority into the loop so they know the status of your actions. Your decision may be overruled but at least you had the authority, as the person on the ground, to take some prompt action to control a problem or mitigate its effects.

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A third realm is where you are expected to handle the situation. A failure to take initiative in this area can be dangerous. Repeated failures may well lead to termination. You are the chief decision maker and kicking decisions upstairs will cause your boss to wonder why you are in the job.

Upward delegation can be a sign of fear. If a manager frequently second-guesses or overrules the decisions of others, after a while more decisions will be deferred. To take an extreme example, Joseph Stalin’s regime was a mass of upward delegation because of the raw fear that permeated his inner circle; a fear that could chill any display of initiative.

Savvy managers quickly determine the triage of decisions: What I decide, what my boss decides, and what we both decide after some discussion. Knowing those boundaries is a vital component of success.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.