It seems like Career Advice 101: Take initiative in the office if you want to move up the ladder. End of story—right?
Turns out it’s not that simple.
I get it: You want to strut your stuff and always put your best foot forward. However, there’s a fine—but crucial—line between taking that initiative and overstepping your bounds. If you’re someone who wants to move up, it’s probably time to ask yourself this question: Are you distinguishing yourself as a leader at work or just the person who steamrolls over colleagues whenever necessary?
Here are three signs it’s the latter—and how to dial it back.
1. You Take on Literally Every Single Assignment Out There
In an effort to prove that you can do all the things, you grab every single project, task, or assignment that’s up for grabs in your department. You might think you’re being proactive by constantly raising your hand—but your colleagues might see it as opportunistic hoarding (in addition to sucking up to your boss).
What to Do Instead
If you’re raising your hand a little too often, now’s the perfect opportunity to take a step back. Let your colleagues take on the next few projects that are offered to your team, especially if you think they’re better suited to take them on.
Still want to add extra value? Volunteer to work on an important (but maybe mundane) task or two that no one else wants to do. Sure, everyone’s lunging for the shiny, cool-sounding projects, but what can really set you apart is being the person the team can count on to spend an afternoon organizing that old client spreadsheet or proofreading investor reports. Nothing says “team player” like sitting on Excel for several hours.
2. You Insert Yourself Into Other People’s Business
There’s a big difference between adding your two cents when a co-worker asks for your opinion, and emailing your boss a list of the eight million ways your colleague screwed up on your team’s latest project and the ways in which he could’ve done a better job.
I know you can guess which one is the big no-no.
What to Do Instead
Saying “keep your thoughts to yourself” is easier said than done, especially in the workplace. As a rule of thumb, limit yourself to speaking up in these scenarios:
- When someone asks for your opinion
- When someone’s actions or work are directly affecting your job performance
- When someone’s actions or work are directly and dramatically affecting the entire team
When I say “directly and dramatically,” I mean only if the situation is serious. For example, a colleague including a single typo in a team memo is not worthy of you storming into your boss’ office. On the other hand, a colleague who’s late with a make-or-break client request and could use extra help is an opportunity for you to step in.
3. You Speak Up Whenever the Opportunity Presents Itself
You’re in a meeting and want to show how much you know—so you make it your mission to chime in every few minutes so that people know you’re on the ball. Or, maybe you slowly co-opt your company’s Slack thread talking all about yourself (and your dogs). Either way, they’re both symptoms of the same problem.
What to Do Instead
Wanting to make your voice heard isn’t a bad thing, but talking just for the sake of talking is not the way to go—especially when you’re taking away the spotlight from others who are more knowledgeable,.
Instead, go for a “less is more” approach: Literally, comment less. And when you do speak up, make sure anything you say is approachable, thoughtful, and on point. Instead of striving to be the person who always adds his or her opinion, work to be the person whose colleagues lean in when he or she speaks.
Walking the fine line between taking initiative and taking over other people’s work comes down to one thing: Being courteous. Keep in mind the thoughts, feelings, and responsibilities of your co-workers, and you’ll be able to wade through these tricky waters.