7 Ways to Inspire Initiative and Eliminate Toxic Indifference

You’ve been asking permission all your life. In school you raised your hand for permission to speak. When I was in first grade, we raised our hands to ask Mrs. Goodwin for permission to use the restroom.

One finger meant you had one thing to do. Two fingers meant …, well you get the point.

Authority figures give and take permission.

Mommies take permission when they say, “Don’t touch!” Years later, we ask for permission to use the car.

Permission-giving cultures:

The person who gives permission holds the power.

In permission-giving cultures, people wait for permission before they act. Power is distributed in drips and drizzles.

You might feel powerful because you’re always giving permission. In reality, you’re a bottle neck.

Initiative is permission to act without permission.

7 ways to honor initiative:

#1. Monitor and minimize permission-seeking.

Persistent permission-seeking points to inept leaders and top-down structures. What systems might you put in place that take you out of permission-giving?

Systems and processes are institutionalized expressions of permission.

#2. Your response to those who act without permission affirms initiative.

Errors of initiative are better than errors of indifference.

Affirm initiative, even when setting boundaries.

#3. Celebrate learning when initiative results in mistakes.

  1. What did you learn?
  2. What would you do differently?
  3. What will you do differently next time?

#4. Identify no trespass zones.

Explore the limits of initiative with your team. You can’t give people permission to do whatever they want.

Understanding limits is essential to initiative.

Once limits are set, everything else is permission.

#5. Give permission before people ask permission.

Walk around honoring initiative.

The approval you express establishes direction.

#6. Reporting makes initiative safe.

Ask people to give reports but don’t quickly intervene in their work.

  1. Share the big picture.
  2. Explain how they fit in.
  3. Point out areas of concern, but don’t fix them.

#7. Highly regulated industries require more permission-giving.

How can leaders create environments where people take initiative?

What are the limits of acting without permission?