The Marks of a True Leader: Initiative

The last time I wrote about the qualities that make a true leader, we focused on ownership. Taking responsibility for your decisions, owning mistakes, and taking charge of your business and your trajectory—no matter what you’re doing or where you want to go.

I also mentioned that it wasn’t the only quality, and that we’d be revisiting the topic soon...and here we are!

As I was thinking about what makes a true leader, I had to go back and think not only about the people I know at the top, but the people that are climbing there. Because leadership—meaningful, real leadership—isn’t something that people fall into. It’s something they earn. 

So on the way to places where people lead, what qualities do they really exemplify? 

I think initiative stands out.

Initiative is one of the biggest qualities in a true leader. Leaders that win, leaders that inspire, leaders that really get stuff done? They’ve got initiative. 

Why Initiative Counts in Leadership & Business

Initiative, to me, is doing what isn’t asked of you. It’s opening your eyes to what needs to be done before you are told to do it. It’s anticipation of problems and taking care of them before they become problems.

This is where initiative really means something to leaders: whether you’re rising to a new position or already at the top.

You think like a team player.

Initiative is a purely team-based character trait. People with initiative are thinking about the good of the whole business, not just themselves. They’re taking on a lot more work and spending a lot more time, effort, and stress: all that they don’t have to. Why? Because they’re looking out for everyone else. They’re not doing what’s easy for them. They’re doing what’s better for the group. 

That sort of mentality—a selfless mentality—serves true leaders well. 

You get yourself (and your business) out there.

Initiative isn’t content with “good enough.” Initiative helps you and your business get to the next level! It’s what drives you to take the steps you need to get where you need to go. Beyond that, it means you don’t get paralyzed by all that you have to do. Initiative helps you be decisive. In the face of a thousand decisions and variables, it means you can be swift and do what needs to be done. 

You never stagnate.

Stagnation is a word that should strike fear into any professional’s heart. Initiative is the preventative cure for stagnation that every leader needs: no fear of getting stale here! Initiative keeps everyone and everything moving because it never allows you to be content with doing nothing. There’s always progress to make, always new directions to explore. It keeps your thinking, your business, and your vision fresh and exciting.

You set the example.

Anyone in leadership knows that you can’t do everything yourself. Leading isn’t about doing it all. It’s about inspiring others to do; empowering those around you to take their own initiative and ownership, and to work together to achieve. Leaders are a guide along the path, and they do that when they lead by example. Initiative helps us do that. And through that, the effects of your initiative are compounded by those around you who follow in your footsteps.

You stay vigilant.

Initiative cultivates good professional habits. When you get used to taking the lead at work or in any of your ventures, you start seeing everything. You recognize what and where work is needed. You see where to step in, whether it’s a decision waiting to happen so a project can move forward or it’s course correction necessary to prevent disaster.

Your vision opens up when you’re the one used to looking—rather than keeping your head down only in what you “have” to do.

In the end, every good leader needs initiative. Leadership demands the drive to do, to go above and beyond.