Taking Initiative with Servant Leadership

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This excerpt from a post called Emotionally Intelligent Leadership (https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1404) really resonated with me: 

Initiative means being a self-starter and being motivated to take the first step. Emotionally intelligent leaders are ready to take action, demonstrate interest, and capitalize on opportunities.

What if Abraham Lincoln had not taken the initiative to tackle the issue of slavery in the United States? What if he had decided that it was simply too controversial to take on? All of us would be different people, living in a different world. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Gloria Steinem, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Golda Meir, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mother Teresa, and Lech Walesa sparked change in their countries and the world. In the words of Kouzes and Posner (2007), “Leaders go first,” and each of these individuals took initiative, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.

Initiative is powerful. The individuals listed not only saw that the world could be different but also took action. Thankfully, we do not have to be world leaders to take initiative. Every day people take initiative in large and small ways. The key is that we see and we act without being prompted to do so. In his video, 
The Power of Vision (1991), futurist Joel Barker suggests, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes time. Vision with action changes the world.”

We aren’t all going to be Gandhi or Mandela, but as servant leaders we have the power to touch people through taking initiative. Here are some ways to do that.

  1. Participate — When you are in meetings, use your experience to contribute, even if the topic is not in your area of responsibility.
  2. Instigate – Be the one who is willing to set a new process or idea in motion. Don’t wait for the other guy to do it. Be willing to take a risk.
  3. Cooperate – Support other leaders. When your leadership wants to start something new, support them and do it in front of other employees.

The minute you decide to lead by serving first, you are deciding to take the initiative to make the world different. You are offering those you influence a chance to change their circumstances in big and small ways. I like what Barker said: “Vision with action changes the world.” What difference are you making? 

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