Not Sure How to Show Initiative at Work? We Asked a Pro at Google for Tips

Updated 10/05/18

Contrary to what years of schooling would have us believe, the secret to building a successful career is a lot different than achieving an A in class. Instead of completing an assignment according to the instructions, often quietly and with our heads down, the honours track of the corporate ladder requires more initiative. There are the obvious ways to do this, of course—often by going beyond the job description and working cooperatively—but recent popular career advice can also make this interpretation feel too simple for today's 9-to-5. After all, initiative can mean to lean in, disrupt, and ask for what we deserve, too.

It's overwhelming to consider all of these definitions. That's why we turned to Angela Kinsella, a senior account strategist for Google Marketing Solutions, to share her personal experiences with showing initiative at work. "I would define initiative as leaving your comfort zone and taking risks to explore opportunities that you have never endeavoured to explore in the past," Angela says. Angela has spent the last 12 years in digital marketing, and she's recently transitioned from the publisher's side of the business to the buyer's side, thanks to her current position at Google.

Although every career is different, Angela's perspective on practicing initiative can provide an insider's look at how one woman built the career she wanted. Read on to learn her approach to newcomer or veteran positions, as well as how she manages to impress a boss while keeping her co-workers happy. Who knows? Angela's sound advice may be what you need to carve your own worthwhile route in the workforce.

initiative at work
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What Are 5 Ways to Show Initiative With a Boss?

Be a hand-raiser. "Anyone who knows me knows I am a hand-raiser," Angela says. "Whether this is asking challenging questions, thinking outside the box, or meeting with people in other areas of the business to learn about something new, I think being a hand-raiser is incredibly important."

Be transparent. It's obvious that your boss should know who you are and what you're working on. "But I would also say that proactively sharing updates, insights, ideas, or even challenges you are facing with your manager is extremely valuable," Angela adds.

It's also vital that all managers see you as transparent—not just your own. "If your manager goes to bat for you down the line, but you are already known within the organization and have a positive reputation, this only benefits your long-term goals and the doors that will open for you," she says.

Be helpful. "I often wonder if people think about showing initiative as showing what they did individually," Angela says. "I actually feel like being genuinely helpful to peers, colleagues, other managers, and team members creates a wonderful positive ripple effect that supports your overall goals."

Be willing to take risks. Here's a challenging two-part question you might want to know the answer to: What are the problems your manager faces, and can you help solve them? Angela says that knowing this can be a big help to you and your boss in the long run. "In addition to expanding your own skills based on your own desires, working with your manager to help solve their challenges (even if they are in areas of the business you may need to learn about) is critical to developing a mutually beneficial relationship of respect and support," she says.

Be humble. "I have found throughout my career that humility is a highly undervalued but also astonishingly important trait," Angela notes. "Humility allows you to cultivate solid lateral and vertical relationships. It also fosters an open environment of communication for feedback. The more your manager can be honest with you about where you can improve, the more you can grow."

How is showing initiative different when you're new verses when you're a veteran?

Angela considers this difference to be subtle but substantial. She considers herself to be a "sponge" when she's new to an office, and asks questions—sometimes pointedly—when needed. "I think that when you're observing, it shows a different degree of initiative," she says. "It shows curiosity, problem solving, vulnerability, and other soft skills that are definitely valued by leadership."

After you've worked with a manager for a while so that a rapport has been developed, Angela says you can be more direct. She uses these hypothetical questions as an example: "I want to do 'x' job in three years. Is that realistic? How can you help me get there? Where do I have to improve? What should I be doing more of?'"

What are three ways to show initiative with co-workers?

Be collaborative. "If you're beginning a new project, joining a training session, or thinking about going to an event, bring a peer," she says. "A rising tide lifts all boats."

Be supportive. "Sharing recognition of your peers' efforts is so important," Angela says. "I'm always very mindful of how I can give people props, share thanks, and more in front of peers, managers, and organizational leaders. You never know how they can help you or how you can help them in your future."

Be adventurous. "Sometimes you have to leave your bubble to find awesomeness. Generally speaking, I feel like the more difficult something is to get, the better it is," Angela says. "So sometimes this will mean reaching out to a total stranger within an organization to network—bring your co-workers in on that. Show them how you think about communicating across your organization."

How can women show initiative within a company as a whole?

"Be kind and support each other. Unfortunately, it doesn't go without saying, and it's something we can all improve on," she says. "Every female leader should be supporting their peers and more junior women around them. We all need to lift each other up and encourage each other to grow." One way to do this, which is something Angela is currently working on, is finding a mentor to work with. This partnership can help you identify areas of improvement, she says.

What should someone avoid when trying to show initiative?

Lead with "I." "This may just be a pet-peeve of mine, but I feel like 'I' statements are not inclusive," she says. "Collaboration is critical to growth, so using 'we' is far more inclusive and shows how you can work with others."

Show restraint. "If you have an idea, or something to say, say it. Don't become a 'yes' person just because you think agreeing with a leader will be beneficial to your career," Angela notes. "I have found that more often than not, challenging the status quo leads to more opportunity, not less." Of course, Angela says it's important to be tactful, but you shouldn't always strive to play it safe.

Change who you are. "Be yourself. I cannot stress this enough. Be authentic to who you are and what you aspire to be, and bring that to work with you," Angela says. "This can sometimes be challenging. But if you're in a healthy work environment, you'll find that your manager and peers will support you for being yourself and holding true to your convictions and beliefs."

For more tips about a self-made career, read The Career Code ($23) by Katherine Power and Hillary Kerr.

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