5 Lessons on the Ability to Take Initiative at Work

What happens when you take the leap at work and decide to make a change? Associate Data Engineer Fernanda Villagra tells us how she developed the ability to take initiative and what she learned along the way.
April 27, 2023
Hakkoda - Ability to Take Initiative - 5 Lessons on the Ability to Take Initiative at Work

We often believe that a leader is only a person who has an important role or responsibility within an organization. However, as one of my favorite authors, John C. Maxwell, notes: “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It’s about one life influencing another.” Personally, I believe that leadership is just that: one person influencing the life of another. 

We seldom notice when we’re being leaders. An act of leadership can range from helping a family member take an important decision, being a captain for a sports team or even the person that organizes a party or event. These simple, everyday events exist because of everyday leaders.

I believe everyone has the ability to lead if they consciously decide to take initiative and influence the lives of others. In this blog, my intention is to share my experience and lessons I’ve learned from taking initiative at Hakkoda. 

Pleasing Everyone Isn’t Easy

I don’t know if this has happened to you, but when I’ve had the opportunity to develop a new activity or project, I’m immediately invaded by a swarm of intrusive thoughts and doubts. I ask myself if I have the ability to lead the initiative and fulfill all expectations, and there’s always the old questions: “What will people say?” and “What will others think?”

A leader within the organization once helped me understand that it wasn’t necessary to look for everyone’s approval. Their words helped me gain confidence in myself and take initiative in those activities I wanted to accomplish. At the same time, I also began working on how to receive critique and negative comments. The best way to work with different reactions is to move forward with the original purpose and execute each action with honest intentions. 

Not Everything Will Go as Planned

I bet many of you have probably faced a new experience, one where you don’t know how to begin. This is a key moment that enables you to choose between scrapping the idea or facing the unknown. You can encounter new challenges by stepping away from a comfort zone and into a learning zone. 

Being afraid of messing up or failing originates, in many cases, in feeling that we don’t have the necessary skills or feeling that we don’t have the ability to solve any challenges we may face along our way. However, the truth is that adversity offers nothing more than opportunities for growth. When we choose to push beyond our comfort zones, we acquire knowledge and skills that will allow us to tackle future challenges. 

Among the many lessons I’ve learned, one of the most important ones is that project success requires establishing an appropriate working structure and appropriate planning. In addition to these core foundations, I believe that you must always have a positive attitude towards change. For someone like me, who likes carrying through an organized plan and supervising every detail, it’s important to have a great attitude. 

Our energy and focus should be oriented towards those aspects we can control. At the same time, we must learn to be flexible when something comes up. This can help us look for possible solutions instead of dwelling on the challenge itself (and, personally, I prefer using “challenge” instead of “problem”). 

By the way, the previous paragraph reminds me of a phrase by Mark Manson: “The desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.” If we acknowledge that not everything will turn out as planned and learn to trust the process, each experience becomes more meaningful.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

On one occasion, after finishing an initiative, I decided to organize a meeting in order to receive feedback. I knew that there were many tasks that could have been executed in a different way and, as a leader and member of the team, I’d also had my missteps. I wanted to create a safe space where everyone could participate and speak honestly. Before the meeting took place, I asked one of the leaders at the organization for recommendations. Their response couldn’t have been more straightforward: “One of the best qualities a leader can have is learning to recognize their own mistakes.”

Sometimes we fear that, by accepting our grievances, the team may feel we lack authority or leadership skills. However, admitting our own failings is nothing more than an act of vulnerability that helps strengthen our relationship with our team.

You may also believe that vulnerability is synonymous with cowardice. In fact, dealing with vulnerability is necessary to mobilize courage. Brené Brown says that “the foundational skill of courage-building is the willingness and ability to rumble with vulnerability… Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability.” Vulnerability gives us the courage to face all the situations that make us feel insecure or exposed. That said, it’s still important to establish limits on roles and relationships to avoid positioning yourself as a victim or using vulnerability to manipulate others. 

An environment that promotes trust and vulnerability helps people to give and receive feedback. Throughout our lives, we make mistakes constantly. But we also have the ability to accept these mistakes and learn from them. And although we may struggle to accept our failures, this process helps us grow and improve. To provide feedback is, in my opinion, one of the gentlest ways of adding value to the lives of others.

Working as a Team

You may have encountered the popular saying: “If you want to go fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, walk together.” I believe many of us, at some point of our lives, have thought we could do everything by ourselves. And although you may be perfectly capable of doing everything alone, my personal experience has taught me that it’s not the best strategy.

Because your time and energy are limited, learning how to prioritize your responsibilities according to your role is of the utmost importance. This requires an understanding of the skills your team has. As a matter of fact, a leader once asked me if I knew my team’s strengths. Seeing that I was unable to answer precisely, he responded: “A productive team needs a leader that understands the strengths of every member.”

We have abilities and strengths that can complement each other and help us optimize the performance of specific tasks. Knowing your team and knowing when to delegate responsibilities can help the team manage time effectively and streamline workflows.

The Ability to Take Initiative Is Pointless without Having Fun

Every single project or initiative will bring its own unique set of challenges: from meeting high expectations and navigating through the unexpected to delegating tasks among your team. It’s easy to lose motivation whenever we feel a project is going downhill. Anytime we’re invaded by doubt, we start thinking we’re not capable, we’re unable to go on or we won’t be able to make it. 

Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong about feeling overwhelmed when adversity knocks on your door. The important thing to remember is that this experience, feeling your imagined limits and pushing beyond them to achieve something greater, is all part of the journey. After all, you’ve found an incredible opportunity to participate and collaborate within an organization that believes you’re capable of great things. 

Without a doubt, work is more enjoyable if you do it with a team that supports you. Having fun really helps achieving a positive end result.

The Ability to Take Initiative Hakkoda

Although taking the leap and having the ability to take initiative is not an easy task, you must learn to trust yourself and your abilities (even if you’re still working on them). If you won’t do it for yourself, no one else will.

Personally, I’m grateful to have encountered so many leaders at Hakkoda with a healthy outlook on leadership. The people I’ve talked to have helped me foster self-trust and initiative, and have taught me how to own my mistakes and be accountable for them. 

Dare to leave your comfort zone, stay curious, live life intensely, and don’t forget that trust is everything and you can be the change you’re looking for. And, above all, regardless of the initiative, people will always come first.

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