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Initiative: The Ability to Take Action Proactively

Initiative follows the first attribute, self-discipline, because initiative is means taking actions before they are necessary. It takes discipline to do the work that needs to be done before it needs to be done. It also takes discipline to take actions when nothing really needs to be done. Self-discipline is the ability to keep the commitments one makes to oneself and includes the ability to take actions that are in your long-term best interests and in the interest of your clients.

Initiative also follows the second attribute, optimism, the ability to maintain a positive mental attitude. Your initiative is enabled by the belief that a positive outcome is possible.

Initiative follows the third attribute, competitiveness, because initiative is, in part, competitiveness put to action. But it is even more than that.

What Is Initiative?

Initiative is the ability to take action proactively. It’s the opposite of being reactive. It is good and necessary that you do what you are asked to do, and it is good that you do what is expected of you. You need to do those things to be successful, too. But what separates the most successful from the rest of the pack is their ability to take initiative and do what needs to be done before anyone else recognizes it needs to be done.

Initiative means taking action before the action is required or necessary. It means acting before being given directions and instructions. It means doing more than is expected. It means being fully engaged in what you are doing, and being thoughtful enough to decide what can be done to achieve a positive outcome on your own.

Initiative is perhaps the greatest demonstration of a willingness to own the outcome of whatever endeavor it is that you are engaged in.

Initiative in Sales

You always find initiative in great salespeople. You see it in their personal development efforts, like their reading and studying to improve their professional skills. You see it in the actions they take to write their own plans, to set their own goals, to direct their own work to achieve greater results than anyone requires or expects. They take initiative instead of relying on their managers to tell them what they must do to succeed.

You see it in their prospecting efforts. They open new opportunities without having to be inspired, encouraged, or commanded to do so.  They know that taking initiative is what opens relationships.

You see it in their interaction with their prospects and clients. They research their dream client’s before calling on them to generate ideas about how they can create value. After acquiring a client, they find opportunities to create solutions that benefit the client outside of what their company normally provides. They consistently bring their clients new ideas, new ways to improve their results. They work to identify areas where the solutions they sell might be put at risk, and they proactively take action to ensure that the client gets the outcome they promised and sold. They do all of this without ever having to be told to do so.

Taking initiative is a cornerstone of professionalism; it is acting proactively, not simply reacting.

When Initiative Is Missing

Too many salespeople pride themselves on being responsive to their prospects and clients requests. Responsiveness isn’t negative; it’s a good thing to be when something unexpected happens. But by itself responsiveness isn’t enough. It doesn’t absolve the professional salesperson from their responsibility to be proactive and to take initiative.

Where initiative is missing in salespeople it results in lost opportunities. It results in their losing the opportunity to define themselves, their personal brand, and their company’s brand as professional. It results in the salesperson missing the opportunity to differentiate themselves in a competitive field.

The lack of initiative results in the salesperson failing to identify and act on ideas that have the potential to create more value for the client than was expected or bargained for. It results in missing the chance to do more than is expected and creating something wonderful.

Worst of all, by not taking the initiative, salespeople allow dissatisfaction to creep into their accounts, the dissatisfaction that puts their client relationships at risk. A lack of initiative breeds complacency, and complacency breeds lost clients.

Initiative is the ability to take action proactively. It means taking action before the action is required or necessary. Being a professional in sales requires many attributes, and initiative is high on that list. It is a defining attribute of professionalism, and it creates opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist.


Do I take action before it is required or necessary?

Am I proactive or reactive?

I am known for doing more than is expected of me?

Do I take action to develop my own personal and professional development plans?

Do I own the outcomes I sell my clients?

Am I finding new ways to create value for my clients? Am I creating ways to help them before there is a problem?



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  • Skip Anderson

    It seems we live in a reactive world, and it’s difficult for many business people to break out of a cycle of reactivity and enter a new world of proactivity.

    One of my favorite sayings, which I attribute to myself (but I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody else said it before me, though) is:

    “Be reactive when you must be, but be proactive always.”


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  • Steve Waterhouse

    It is interesting that you focus on initiative now, in this economy. I believe it is the one thing that defines the difference between the successful sales person of 2006 and 2010. When the tide is coming in, you simply need to sit on the beach with your bucket and the water will come to you. Many sales people made very good livings during those time while taking very little initiative. Now the tide is out and it is not expected back soon.

    Companies are holding on to their former winners with no idea why they are failing today. The difference is initiative and we see it every day in the behavioral assessments we do for our clients. Initiative is measurable and predictable. Those without will seldom discover it on their own. Of those who discover this reality, many will fail to implement it. Most know it.

    I was interviewing a sales rep last week and I ended the discussion this way. I said, “Bill, I’m not going to hire you because this job requires the type of person who will get up every day and make something happen on their own. No leads, no clients to build from. I think you would hate that.” His response was not surprising. “Thanks”, he said. “You just saved me from taking a job I would have failed at.”

    Initiative was the missing element.

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  • Harmanderjot

    what is the first step for sales and marketing?