Taking Initiative

My previous blog posts on delegating effectively (links at the end of this post) were popular enough that they have evolved into a training offering. Today I offer another tip that can help both leaders looking to delegate more effectively and individual contributors looking to increase their level of autonomy and initiative in their role.

Levels of Initiative

In a prior post, I mentioned the Harvard Business Review article Who’s Got the Monkey, one of their most downloaded articles. One simple yet powerful framework they offer is these five distinct levels of initiative:

  • Level 1: Wait until told
  • Level 2: Ask what to do
  • Level 3: Recommend, then take resulting action
  • Level 4: Act, but advise at once
  • Level 5: Act on your own, then routinely report

This framework is coming up regularly in my coaching conversations. As coachees work to delegate more effectively and empower their employees to take on more responsibility, it helps to understand what level of initiative someone is operating at and if that aligns with their expectations.

If you are an individual contributor, ask yourself what level of initiative you are currently operating at and if that aligns with your manager’s expectations. 

Leveling Up

The holy grail of leadership is to have an entire team operating at level 5 initiative. That being said, there are many reasons someone could (and should) operate at a lower level. A brand-new employee probably isn’t expected to know what they are doing, so level 2 may be appropriate as they learn the ropes. A seasoned leader may move into a new business area that will require mentoring and coaching, so stepping down from level 5 to level 3 or 4 may be appropriate for a time.

There are very few instances where level 1 is appropriate. If you have someone consistently operating at level 1, consider whether they are a fit for your organization.

Using the Framework

When using this framework with your teams, I encourage you to make it explicit. In 1:1 meetings, talk with your employees about the framework, what level they think they are operating at, and where they feel they should be. Once the framework is understood, employees operating at level 2 will quickly get used to you asking them what they recommend when they come and ask you what they should do. You will also start to learn from your employees what you are doing that keeps them from taking more initiative.

If you are using this framework to raise your level of initiative, review it with your manager. Explain what level you think you are operating at today, and brainstorm techniques with them that can help you move to a higher level. I know I would be overjoyed to have an employee come to me and offer recommendations about how they could take more initiative.

How can you level up, both yourself and your employees?

Schedule time with Josh.

Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

Here are links to the previous posts:

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