Initiative gets you rewarded, well maybe not!

Exercising personal initiative needs to be done carefully.
Exercising personal initiative needs to be done carefully.

Initiative is a trait that is supposedly highly valued by employers, thus it appears on practically every résumé written. It is usually promoted as someone’s strengths when they are asked what their strengths are in an interview. Unfortunately a recent study has shown that initiative may not get you the rewards you expected.

Neither bosses nor fellow workers like it

Actually personal initiative, “taking the bull by the horns”, is a highly desired trait, but for it to be effective it must be combined with some political savvy and a good sense of timing, according to a joint study conducted at the University of Bonn in Germany and at Florida State University in the US. Psychologists at both universities conducted research and discovered that taking the initiative can often be seen as being pushy or a troublemaker.

Timing and territory

The psychologists, in their press release, said “…personal initiative by itself is of no benefit – it has to be combined with social acumen in order to bring about success.” If you exercise personal initiative you will be seen as a troublemaker by both your boss, possibly for stepping on her project, or by your fellow employees. As their conclusion in the third study stated “A positive atmosphere for proactive behavior only leads to good performance appraisals if the participants demonstrated a high degree of personal initiative as well as social acumen and sensitivity to the right opportunity.”

Pick your opportunities

The conclusion that comes from the cumulative studies is that exhibiting personal initiative in the job only brings positive rewards if it is combined with an understanding of the receptivity to initiative at the company and the proper timing of using the initiative. Without that combination of factors your initiative could position you as a “bull in a china shop” and a lot of damage could be done to your career.
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