5 Ways to Take Initiative in Your Job: Increase Productivity and Create Opportunity for Career Advancement

Amy Maybury  |  October 10, 2023

Woman in bright suit jacket shaking hands with man in meeting room.

Taking initiative of your job is all about your approach.

Here’s a tried and true tip for you: If you treat your tasks and projects as if they were your OWN business, you’ll find this mindset often leads to greater accountability and proactivity. Combine this mindset with the best ways of taking initiative in your job, and it won’t only benefit your career. It will also contribute to the success of your organization. How? By showing that you are engaged, motivated, and committed to making a positive impact.

“Once you carry your own water, you learn the value of every drop.” -African Proverb

In order to “carry your own water,” you must be able to do these 5 things:

  1. Do more than what’s expected
  2. Foster innovation
  3. Be proactive
  4. Develop leadership skills
  5. Position yourself for opportunity

Throughout this blog post, I’ll break down exactly how you can do that.

1. Do More Than What’s Expected

Initiative showcases your willingness to go above and beyond your basic job responsibilities. It shows that you’re not just “expecting” longterm career growth to fall into your lap.

It starts by taking the lead in identifying and solving problems or pursuing opportunities. You show that you’re a proactive employee, committed to your role, and aren’t afraid to go the extra mile. Consistently taking initiative in your job shows your commitment to it, as well as your organization’s success. This commitment is often recognized and rewarded over time. All in all, it’s always worth the first step towards employee retention and overall happiness. Hard work pays off!

However, it’s important to strike a balance when taking initiative in your professional goals. You should be mindful of your company’s culture, always practicing effective communication with an open dialogue, and be respectful of existing processes and hierarchies to cultivate and maintain a positive work environment. Not all initiatives will be successful. However, the willingness to learn from failures is always a valuable trait in the workplace.

Is it a bad thing to do more than what you’re asked?

Photograph showing text "Go Beyond" It has always boggled my mind to hear people say things like, “That’s not what I get paid to do.” Putting yourself out there and raising awareness about your abilities is key to being targeted for a raise or a promotion.

I once had a coworker who would habitually check his new-hire paperwork. He would carefully read through the job description before embarking upon a newly given task. Why? In order to ensure he wasn’t doing extra work! He felt that his expertise should be compensated accordingly, and he kept an iron grip. But “playing by the rules” will only get you so far!

By all means, if you only aspire to be a bench warmer, you’re golden. Not putting in additional effort beyond the bare minimum will keep you right in your comfort zone. But if you want to be a key player in the game, you’ll want to be out there learning new tricks and making yourself available for winning opportunities. This is especially important during the hard times when optimism is paramount.

Taking the initiative in your job can indeed increase productivity and create opportunities for career advancement. It not only benefits your organization but also helps you grow personally and professionally.

2. Foster Innovation

Initiative often involves thinking outside the box and coming up with creative solutions. This can lead to innovation within your team or organization, which is highly valued in many industries.

Introducing curiosity to the table instead of judgment is key to opening the doors to an inclusive environment. Imagine a raised eyebrow moment instead being met with the request to know more—what a conversation starter! Moments like this lead to telling stories, which is the foundation of networking. Once people are connected on this level, the possibilities are endless for the ability to create new ideas, concepts, and processes.

I used to be highly opposed to sitting around all day to “brainstorm.” To me, it was just a term that allowed people to argue and waste time. That is, until I realized that not all fruit from that tree fell to its detriment. There were many A-Ha! moments that became monumental strides in how we, as a team, adjusted the sails of our goals and prepared for smoother waters. Once you really learn how the people on your team think, which is directly related to their personality types, you understand how to better communicate with them. And when productive communication enters the room, let the creativity commence! Taking initiative in your job has never been so fun and rewarding.

“I wonder if…”

A great way to spur innovation when faced with an issue is to say the words, “I wonder if…”. Albeit seemingly basic, there is something about putting thoughts into words that help turn them into actions. Our CEO is our creative genius on the team, and the beginning to many of his sentences starts with those three powerful words. When he utters those words, that’s when we know the wheels are turning and we better get ready for the next new adventure!

In our common space at the office, we often get into debates about the most effective ways to go about various situations. I think it’s important to remember that when there are varying opinions or interpretations, it’s not the people who are at odds, it’s the thought process. And when you take that human element out of the equation, it makes it a lot easier to agree or disagree with the idea or process on the table. Instead of it being an argument between people, it’s a comparison between different points of view.

Innovation leads to discovery

There are many companies that foster innovation in various ways. One prominent example is Google (now part of Alphabet Inc.), which has a strong reputation for its innovative culture. Google is famous for allowing its employees to spend 20% of their workweek on projects of their choice unrelated to their primary roles or duties. This policy has led to the development of several successful products, including Gmail and Google News. Taking initiative in your job yields much more when the team is permitted to explore new, innovative territory.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” -Steve Jobs

Diversity naturally leads to innovation

One of the most crucial components of any team is the diversity of thoughts, ideas, and experiences that it encompasses. Six people with the same background, education, age, opportunities, and experiences are never going to be as successful as a melting pot of varying levels and mixtures of all of the above. In business, we want to be able to meet the demands of our customers, near and far, across all trades. But six people who walk, talk, learn, and grow the same cannot possibly relate to every single client.

One of my coworkers once asked me to take the lead on a large Build-A-Bike team-building event that he sold. He knew that I would be much more successful leading 750 sorority girls of Zeta Tau Alpha than he would. On the flip side, I once had a client ask for an instructor who had substantial experience in the corporate arena training C-Suite financial executives, and I knew exactly who I needed to reach out to on our team to fit that ask.

One of the best things about The Leader’s Institute is our ability to meet every client where they are. This is due to our broad range of personalities, skill sets, and varying levels of expertise, from young adults to seasoned professionals. And this is the very reason why our faucet of wondrous curiosity runs freely and without obstruction. With different schools of thought, we are constantly creating new ideas that keep us at the forefront of team-building innovation.

3. Be Proactive

Man in office showing sticky notes to his coworkers. Proactive employees often identify and address issues before they escalate, which can save time and resources for both you and your organization.

Addressing potential issues before they arise is key to proper preparation and means you know how to be proactive. This is one of the key factors of the “outside of the box” thinking that is currently all the rage in leadership roles. Team members who contribute to this play an important role in maintaining the health and efficiency of an organization, as well as keeping emergency situations at bay. Taking initiative in your job is as much about making things go smoothly as it is about innovating.

Proactivity in action

In January 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles were flying their Airbus A320 out of LaGuardia Airport in New York City when they encountered a flock of birds shortly after takeoff. The birds struck both of the plane’s engines, causing a dual-engine failure. In this critical situation, Captain Sully’s proactive and decisive actions played a pivotal role in ensuring the safety of all 155 passengers and crew on board.

Here’s how Captain Sully’s proactivity made a difference:

  1. Quick Assessment: Captain Sully and First Officer Skiles immediately assessed the situation and recognized the severity of the engine failures.
  2. Communication: Captain Sully calmly communicated with air traffic control, notifying them of the emergency and stating that he wouldn’t be able to return to the airport.
  3. Decision-Making: Instead of attempting to return to LaGuardia Airport, which could have led to a disastrous crash in a densely populated area, Captain Sully made the proactive decision to land the plane on the Hudson River.
  4. Crew Coordination: Captain Sully and his crew worked together seamlessly to prepare the passengers for an emergency water landing, ensuring that everyone was safely evacuated onto the wings of the aircraft as it floated on the river.
  5. Emergency Response: After the successful landing, Captain Sully continued to display proactivity by assisting in the orderly evacuation of passengers onto rescue boats and making sure everyone was accounted for.

Captain Sully’s proactive actions and quick thinking during a dire situation are celebrated as a remarkable example of skill and professionalism. His decision to land the plane on the Hudson River, rather than attempting to reach an airport, is widely credited with saving the lives of all on board. His story serves as a powerful illustration of the impact of proactivity in a high-stress and time-critical scenario.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When you take the initiative to streamline processes or suggest improvements, it can lead to increased productivity within your team and the company as a whole.

(By the way, if you want to see just how Captain Sully managed to land that plane, here’s a great video):

4. Develop Leadership Skills

Taking the lead on projects or tasks allows you to develop and demonstrate leadership skills. This can be particularly valuable if you aspire to move into a management or leadership role in the future.

I remember becoming a shift lead at my very first job at age 15, and after that, I was hooked. Being a leader was my favorite thing, and I knew despite the uphill challenges that life had faced me with on a personal level, I wanted to reach my full potential. I knew that my success was in my very own hands. At age 16, I became an Assistant Manager. At age 18, I was a Store Manager, and at age 22, I became a National Dealer Sales Manager. Taking initiative in your job naturally helps you climb up the ladder.

Find your motivation for being a leader

The reason I always moved up was because I was always doing more than I was asked to do and learning how to do what I didn’t yet know. And for me, it was all about winning, or reaching my full potential…. and so, the race was to the top, in every position I have ever had. And I quickly learned what drove my ambition, curiosity, and determination: a career that God held just for me. I am here to help people reach their full potential, with a servant’s heart and a drive so fierce that I wake up every day ready to learn, strive, do and be more.

In fact, through my executive coaching sessions, I learned that my personal intrinsic motivator was just that: To Win! My executive coach taught me that in every possible scenario, my brain will always go to the score. My score always has to be high, or I won’t be satisfied. This actually bodes well for naturally learning new skills, completing tasks without giving in, and constantly sharpening the axe in all leadership development programs I can create, learn, share and embody.

True leaders develop other individuals, too—not just themselves

One famous person known for continuously learning and developing new leadership skills is Warren Buffett. While primarily recognized as one of the most successful investors of all time, Buffett has also demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities throughout his career. A few key points that highlight his commitment to learning and leadership include adaptability, continuous learning, mentorship, and giving back. Warren Buffett’s journey from a young investor to one of the world’s wealthiest and most respected leaders in finance is a testament to his dedication to learning and adapting. His ability to continuously develop new leadership skills has not only benefited his own career but has also inspired countless others in the worlds of business and investing.

“The true value of a leader is not measured by the work they do. A leader’s true value is measured by the work they inspire others to do.” – Simon Sinek

Likewise, this quote by Simon Sinek underscores the idea that true leadership is not about having authority or control, but rather about taking responsibility for the well-being and development of those you lead. Developing leadership skills involves learning how to support and empower others effectively.

5. Position Yourself for Opportunity

When you consistently taking initiative in your job, you’re more likely to be considered for promotions or special projects. Managers and leaders often look for employees who show they are capable of taking on additional responsibilities.

The time that I took a giant leap of faith…

I will always accredit my personal growth and success to one single bold move. It was a giant leap of faith that I took years ago at age twenty-two. At the time, I had been Store Manager for a telecommunications company in Arlington, TX, for about two years.

There were five stores total in Dallas/Fort Worth, and interestingly enough, our area manager was not even located in the state. In fact, he lived in California. I rarely spoke to John and had only seen him in person twice, which was oddly sufficient. I had pretty much taken over most of the day-to-day operations of most of the stores. After all, their store managers were previous assistant managers of mine, so I was the one everyone came to for anything.

All John really needed from me each month were the numbers, stats, and reports. So, imagine my utter shock when he resigned, and instead of promoting me, they gave his position to yet another person based in California!

For the next six months, I went home every day, stewing on the fact that I literally had to teach the new area manager every single thing she needed to know about my store, my co-workers, and my direct reports. I owned the whole who/what/when/where/how and had to hand it all over to someone who wasn’t even in the same state!

Here’s what I did next…

Fast forward a month after I saved enough for a flight to our corporate office in Virginia Beach. I even used my own vacation time to go and personally meet with our CEO.

Imagine his shock when I walked into his office, without an appointment, and asked for a few moments of his time. I came armed with all of the proof, including reports showing my store as #1 Sales vs. Plan, the ability to hire, train, and retain employees and work independently as a trusted employee, as to why I deserved to be the Area Manager for DFW. He listened intently with a look in his eye and a smile on his face that I’ll never forget. Now, I didn’t get the promotion, just yet. But I walked out of there feeling like I did because I knew in that moment that I was ready.

Three weeks later, on a conference call with all 300 store managers, the company announced that it was shutting down the stores and moving to a third-party dealer model. That meant one thing: we were all out of a job. All but one of us, anyway. They needed a National Dealer Sales Manager to manage the third-party dealers.

Here’s the kicker:

There was a long line of people based at the corporate office applying for the position. Instead, they took a chance on the one who was confident and daring enough to fly 1,500 miles away on her own dime to declare to the CEO, face-to-face, why she had earned her piece of the pie. I had two weeks to shut down the store chain in DFW and relocate to Virginia Beach, where I immediately started training.


Taking initiative in your job means approaching your tasks with a sense of responsibility and commitment. It also means combining this mindset with proactivity, innovation, productivity, leadership development, and strategic positioning. This all leads to personal and professional growth, as well as contributes to the overall success of your organization. It reflects your dedication to making a positive impact and seizing opportunities for career advancement. These qualities are highly valued in the workplace. All in all, they help you stand out as an engaged employee who helped lay the foundation for a culture of recognition, continuous improvement and good employee morale.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not why ships are built.” -William GT Shedd

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Amy Maybury, Senior Instructor for The Leaders Institute
author Amy Maybury
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Amy Wilson Maybury has spent over ten years in business management before becoming a professional facilitator with The Leaders Institute ®. Her natural ability to relate to people on a deeper level, extreme attention to detail, and high level of energy make her an excellent candidate to deliver powerful performances with lasting memories. Amy’s clients rave about her relentless energy and how she can make any meeting fun!
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