One trait common to all leaders is initiative. Leaders don’t have to be told to do something. They don’t need managers above them. They don’t wait for all the lights to turn green before departing on a trip. Leaders don’t waste time waiting and wondering if they should act. They take responsibility and take action. There is an old line that there are three types of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. Leaders are the ones in the first group making things happen.
A component in initiative is the courage to act. Another is decisiveness. Leaders display a willingness toward action, seeing what needs to be done and doing it without delay. Initiative is not to be confused with recklessness. Instead, it is a mixture of a spirit of enterprise, courage, and competent decisiveness.
What separates a leader from the rest is not only his ability to see what needs to be done but his unhesitating execution of it, even while others watch or deliberate. Leaders feel just as much trepidation as others, but they are able to muster the courage to press on anyway. This is why when the going gets tough, people look for a leader. They want someone with the courage to confront challenges and hit obstacles head on, thereby inspiring them to do the same. A leader absolutely must be courageous. As John C. Maxwell wrote, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” This cannot be done without courage.
There is a spirit of enterprise distinctive of all true leaders, who see what needs to be done and do it without hand-holding or waiting for orders. Action is a keystone of leadership.
The very concept of initiative stands upon the platform of accepting personal responsibility. Leaders function while called upon to make decisions in often confusing situations and possibly dangerous environments, without adequate time and/or information, making decisions to the best of their ability and then striving to make those decisions right. In short, leaders must be able to decide and then take full responsibility for their decisions.
The initiative of a leader also births creativity and ingenuity as the objective remains frozen and the means are molded toward its purpose.
Further, great leaders must have the grander picture in focus, being sure to serve the vision while serving their own interests and keeping the two aligned. This happens automatically when a leader acts according to the convictions of his or her character.