1. Define What It Means to be Proactive
The first way to take initiative is to define what it means to be proactive. This is not the dictionary definition of proactive, but the concrete actions you can take to reach a particular outcome. This could pertain to a goal, a task, or a particular client.
Sometimes it is easier to define proactive by defining what it is not; it is the opposite of being reactive.
Here is a true-life example. One salesperson I know sells a very complex solution. They solution requires that they use partners for part of what they do to gather and collect information from their clients. After the data is collected, they transfer it to this salesperson’s company. But the quality of the data collection may or may not be correct for this salesperson’s clients. The discovery that the data collection was poor occurs when the salesperson’s client can’t achieve the outcome they needed (and paid for).
This is reactive. Being proactive would be to get involved in the collection process early enough to prevent the problem from occurring, even though it not your responsibility and even though it isn’t expected. Being proactive on problems and challenges like the one above is how you pull yourself out of the commodity trap. This is how you become a trusted advisor (and not by avoiding basic sales behaviors, as too many believe).
Brainstorm the areas where you could you be proactive. What common problems or challenges do you encounter that you could minimize by taking action sooner? Which of these problems are you ignoring because it isn’t your responsibility?
2. Take Action Without Waiting for Directions
Initiative, by definition, means doing something without waiting for directions or instructions. If you have to be told to do something, you are being reactive and are not taking initiative.
Taking initiative means taking action on the problems, the challenges, and the opportunities that you discovered above. Once you have discovered something that might either endanger the outcome you are after or that might be an opportunity to achieve the outcome faster, you are obligated to act on that knowledge.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you do so without the support and the consent of your management team, but it does mean that write the action plan, you outline the potential benefits, you discuss the challenges, and that you sell the solution to your team as if they were a customer. Identifying the opportunity to do better and designing the plan to do so is a form of taking action.
Make a list of the actions you can take now that will create a better outcome for you, for your company, and for your clients. Stay up late working on new plans to sell to your team.
3. Do Something that Generates a Response or Outcome
This is a little different take on initiative. In a military sense taking the imitative means taking some actions that generates a response. This goes to strategy and competition. For our purposes here it can be used to think about doing something competitive before our competitors do.
This means thinking about what your industry does, redefining it, and doing something different. It means innovating.
One way to identify the areas where you might be able to gain the initiative is to make a list of all of things surrounding your business where your industry would say: “We don’t do that.”
What if you did do “that”? What if your company could lead by taking the initiative to solve some set of problems and by doing so created greater value than your competitors? Could you capture enough of the value created to profit from doing so? Would taking the initiative set up a competitive mismatch between you and your competitors?
4. Make it Personal
One final thought on initiative surrounds our own personal and professional development. Taking initiative is personal. It means taking action to read the books that would give you an education in your discipline. It means finding seminars, workshops, and training opportunities that you can attend and finding a way to attend them.
Initiative is setting your own goals and writing your own plans. It is taking charge of the outcome that is your life (and you have only one, and it includes both the personal and professional).
Making a list isn’t enough. Initiative means taking action before you are asked, before you are told, and before you are given directions. In the case of personal initiative, no one is coming to give you directions. Brainstorm, make the list, and start taking action now.
Taking initiative means taking actions proactively. It means taking action before it is necessary. It is what defines professionalism, especially in sales. These four ideas will help you take initiative . . . as long as you don’t wait for directions.
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