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Coworker won't take initiative

How Do I Encourage My Coworker to Take Initiative? (without coming across as a jerk)

by | Apr 5, 2024 | Asking For a Friend Featured |

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To encourage more initiative be specific in your request.

Hi Karin, “I’ve got a peer who will never take initiative. I’m always stuck feeling like I’m the one to push if we’re going to get anything done. I really don’t like that feeling. What should I do? How can I get them to step it up? #AskingForaFriend.”

This one’s tricky. After all, they are your peer. You’re NOT the boss of them. And, it’s impacting you, your work, and your results. Work is more stressful than it needs to be. Let’s fix that.

Today’s “Asking for a Friend” features Glain Roberts-McCabe, PCC, CTDP (she/her) with expert advice for showing up curious and getting clear on your request.

What Does It Mean to Take Initiative?

“Take initiative” is one of those phrases like “be more strategic” or “don’t be so negative” which can be a lightening for workplace conflict.

That request is just too vague for most people. If you want someone to take initiative, a good place to start is to be clear about what success looks like.

Taking initiative might mean anticipating potential problems and proposing solutions, seeking out opportunities for innovation or improvement, or voluntarily taking on additional responsibilities to relieve pressure on your team.

Defining what it looks like to take initiative in a specific context requires setting clear expectations about proactive behaviors, the scope of autonomy, and the desired outcomes. This clarity helps transform the abstract notion of “take initiative” into actionable, observable actions, which enables the person to to contribute more effectively.

How to Start the Conversation

take initiative

1. Appreciate Different Styles

Understand that we all have different motivational energies.  Some of us like to move fast. Some of us like a little slower, steady pace. And really it’s often that energy gap that’s causing all kinds of tension.

When you start there, it’s easier to give that co-worker the benefit of the doubt. It’s unlikely that the reason they aren’t taking initiative is to tick you off. They might be going slow to really think these through. Or they lack the confidence to speak up and share their ideas. 

2. Invite Conversation

Sit down and ask your co-worker about how they like to work. Talk to them about what it feels like to have to work quickly. Ask what requests they have from you to make their work easier.

3. Make a Request

Of course, once they’ve shared their request, it’s easier to share yours. Here’s where you can tap into the very specific initiative-taking behaviors you are looking for. Don’t just say, “I need you to take initiative.” Instead, you might say something like, “I need you to proactively stakeholder your ideas with your boss before coming to me.” Or, I need you to do a quality check and fix any mistakes before you send the data for me to use.”

This Harvard Business Review Article, Mastering the Art of the Request, by Rae Ringle defines 5 questions to ground a better request.

  • What do you want?
  • Who do you want it from?
  •  When do you want it by?
  • What are the conditions of satisfaction?
  • What’s the context?

4. Schedule the Finish

Once you’ve both made your requests, don’t leave follow-through to chance. Schedule a time to talk about how things are going. This way, if your commitments to one another are working, you don’t need to remember to celebrate that success. And, if they don’t take the initiative you agreed to as promised, you don’t have to summon the courage to talk about the situation again, you already have it scheduled.

Your turn. What’s one of your favorite ways to help someone take initiative at work?

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Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

  Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

2 Comments

  1. Steve S Sheridan

    I like the line “define what success looks like”. That way the person knows what is expected of them

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks, Steve! Creating clarity is such an important place to start.

      Reply

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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