When you were a kid, it was expected that your parents had all the answers. I remember whenever I found myself in a pickle I’d look to them with pleading eyes, and instead of telling me the solution, they’d say, “Alyse, you can figure it out. What do you think is the answer?”
And that was infuriating, especially because I wanted to know now, rather than do the work to find it. But the more it happened, the more I learned that I had the power—and the skills—to solve my own problems. I just had to have confidence in myself.
The same goes for work. Just because your manager has the last word doesn’t mean it’s their job to find the answers for you. Sure, they may have more experience, more knowledge, and more wisdom, but they wouldn’t have hired you unless they ultimately knew you could do it yourself.
This is called initiative, and it’s the most underrated skill in the workplace.
Take it from producer, screenwriter, and author Shonda Rhimes, who says—in an interview with Fast Company—she purposefully stays home in the morning to physically remove herself as a resource for her employees. In addition, she has a rule: No one can enter her office with an issue unless they have a solution to it.
“[P]eople try to come into my office with fires that need to be put out, many of which they could solve themselves if they did not have me in front of them,” she says. “Sometimes people don’t want to be empowered because they are afraid of being the person to make the decisions. I am lucky that I have people who’ve worked with me for 10 years or more, [who’ve learned] that they could trust themselves to be the decision maker.”
The other aspect of initiative, which most people fail to recognize, is doing more than what’s expected. Maybe you came up with a temporary fix to a problem and appeased your boss for the time being, but what if it comes up again? Have you thought about how to prevent it from happening in the future? Is there a better way to solve it for the long-term?
It’s easy to react to something—like a kid complaining to his parents until he gets an answer. But the best employees are proactive: “It’s about being active rather than passive and not letting things happen to you but rather creating your own path for opportunity,” says Lifehack writer Jenny Marchal. She suggests that initiative is about:
- Taking ownership of your problems
- Focusing on what you can control (versus what you can’t)
- Maintaining a consistently “think-ahead” attitude
So the next time a project falls through, or a last-minute technical issue comes up, how can you stand out and impress your boss? By getting to the fix before he or she does. Not only will you save both your butts, but you’ll prove you’re ready to start taking on more challenges—and even a big, shiny promotion.