“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” – George Bernhard Shaw (Mrs. Warren’s Profession 1893)

Today we will explore the very First Stone in understanding the science of Taking Initiative. In Taking Initiative Part 2, I showed you the full slides to the presentation I did that gives an overview of this Taking Initiative Series.

This 3 Stone strategy to Taking Initiative is credited to Michael Frese and Doris Fay’s work in PI (Personal Initiative) University of Giessen and University of Amsterdam.

As mentioned earlier in this series, Taking Initiative especially in the workplace is not an optional skill that you may skip on, rather it is an important skill to get a job, keep a job, command a pay rise, be a good parent, be a good citizen etc. If you don’t learn how to take initiative, then you will suffer in the Marketplace and other areas of life. I see many people today who are content with not progressing, and it is no surprise that they become the first out in difficult situations, whether it is a business, a job, a relationship or even a meeting.

This series has only 1 objective, ‘to make you a serial initiative taker – where Taking Initiative becomes a science that can be mastered.’

The very first Stepping Stone in the science of Taking Initiative is PERSONALISED GOALS.

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. – Tony Robbins

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Taking Initiative is the invisible and an elusive skill for many people, but this series will make it accessible to you.

Personal initiative is a work behaviour defined as self-starting and proactive that overcomes barriers to achieve a goal. – Michael Frese and Doris Fay University of Giessen and University of Amsterdam

Rather than be vague about what it means to be self-starting, I have decided to break it down to the simple ‘Personalised Goals”. I have heard a lot of people say ‘I am not a self-starter’. While it is true some of us don’t know how to begin, it also means we won’t know how to take initiative, which shouldn’t be the case and I want to help you change that. Personalising the goals helps you to start. We get motivated when we are involved in the creating process of a particular task or event.

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. – Jim Rohn

To be Taking Initiative you need to have goals, not just anything someone tells you to achieve, you need Personalised Goals i.e. goals/targets that you have taken ownership of. Remember, this about understanding the science of Taking Initiative.

How do I get Personalised Goals?

Let me use an example of someone I work with who exemplified personalised goals in her dealings. Bev (not real name) is the admin lady at work. When she took on the job there was a job description listing what she is expected to do. Let’s say one of these is

“Buying and changing the toner when printer runs out of ink”

Another thing to repeat here –

As long as you are doing your specified job well, you are not Taking Initiative”

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Doing your specified job well is the minimum requirement. Taking Initiative is about adding something extra. It could be doing it faster, improving the process, creating the process, teaching others, creating a manual, as long as it adds value to you, your organisation or the people/team involved.

Back to Bev, every time Bev changes the toner, she is doing her job. As long as we do not have issues with printer running out of ink and stalling our operations, Bev would have been doing her job well, but she may not be Taking Initiative.

An example of Bev Taking Initiative

Bev can start the process of Taking Initiative by personalising this job description. Instead of “Buying and changing the toner when printer runs out of ink” Bev can turn it into

“Buying and changing the toner when printer runs out of ink” (which is the minimum requirement to do the job), Knowing how long on average it takes the ink to run out, explore if there are cheaper vendors we could be sourcing toners from, create long term partnerships.

NOTE: You don’t have to do this for every of your job tasks but I recommend you personalise any goal you get given, it is the absolute first step to Taking Initiative.

The updated description shows Bev personalising this specific task and taking ownership of it. It is not only what she was asked to do, it is now what she was asked to do with what she is willing to do to create extra value and do a better job. Because she is now involved in the creative process, the following things will happen.

1.)    She will have more motivation to get it done

2.)    She does not have to think about how to take Initiative. It will automatically be taken with the right steps.

3.)    She increases her value in the organisation

4.)    She will not be daunted about the idea of being a self-starter.

 Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn – Benjamin Franklin

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Bev picked up the phone because of her task (turned personalised goals) and called a few vendors, told them about our requirement of a toner every, say 2 months, and we will be doing that as long as we are in business. She ended up getting a good deal that involves the toner being delivered to the office at the right time and she frees up her time to do better things in the office rather than getting stuck in Lagos traffic trying to get a toner every 2 months.

My colleague actually did this, and if she gets to read this, she gets to know that around the office, it has been credited to her as someone who is good at Taking Initiative.

So it’s your turn to learn this First Step in the science of Taking Initiative.

The folks at Leadership Talent Solutions came up with this list that I believe will help you get started in setting Personalised Goals:

1.)    Identify a goal in which you would like to move things forward.

  • What are the benefits to you in moving it forward?
  • To your organization?
  • What is one small step you can take today?
  • Do it!

2.)    List your best opportunities and barriers to achieving a particular goal.

  • What can you do to remove the barriers?
  • What can you do to seize the opportunities?
  • Take action today on one opportunity and one barrier.

3.)    Before you start each day, take a moment to make a To Do list of actions for that day, including making important calls, clarifying miscommunications, making decisions, or setting up meetings.

4.)    Choose a behaviour you believe is getting in your way of taking more initiative and commit to changing that behaviour. For example: addressing disagreements in a forthright manner; stepping up to take responsibility for leading a key project; speaking up when you have a different perspective; managing your time better.

5.)    Review actions to take with your manager or someone you respect, agree on realistic deadlines and commit to reporting back on progress at a set time.


In Taking Initiative Part 5, we will learn the Second Stone in the science of Taking Initiative. It is called ‘Proactive’.

Quick Question, what does Proactive actually mean? You may think you know i.e check the dictionary, but really what does it mean? How do you become proactive? Watch out for Taking Initiative Part 5.


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