This is the fourth and final (for now) post in a series on how to be a self-starter. Other posts: 1) How to be a self-starter, 2) Self-starter secret #2: learn new things and 3) Oh, the thinks you can think.

Clouds gathering to form a hurricane

As I write this, the entire East Coast is bracing for Hurricane Irene. In the DC metro area, we’re far enough inland to not be too panicked, but nevertheless, we’re battening the hatches. As I move my outdoor projectiles (potted plants, yard chairs and the like) to the garage, I might remember that my neighbor is out of town, and notice that his hanging plants are still up. Do you think he’d be upset if I take them down, just in case?

Since he’s a reasonable person*, no. I saw what needed to be done, and did it. [*Note: if your boss is not a reasonable person, or is a micromanager, you will want to tread carefully. Start with the ** below.]

As a manager, the best possible thing I can see is my employees taking the initiative to fix something that’s broken.  It could be a process, a web page, a relationship. The thing isn’t the focus: it’s that the employee saw what needed to be done and did it. And then told me about it. Makes me proud every time. Even if I have to correct minor things, I’d much rather do that than burn my entire workday making task lists for others. Managers value initiative; it sets you apart from those who do what they’re told, and nothing more.

Start with small things. Tweak an internal process to make things more efficient. Check the website for broken links, and fix them without being asked. Step up to lead a social event at work.  [Bonus: that will give you some management experience. If you’ve never done it, event management is WAY more work than you might imagine.]

Before you assign yourself too many new tasks, know what’s off limits. Calling a client to propose something new without your boss’ buy-in? Probably a bad idea. Use the filter “Will this make my boss look good?”, and whatever you do, don’t cut her out of the loop or go above her head. That’s not initiative, it’s back-stabbing–something you do NOT want a reputation for, even if your boss is the Wicked Witch of the West.

**If you’re new to taking initiative, try writing out what you’d like to do first. Bring it to your boss, say “Here’s something that I’ve noticed we should do, and here’s how I’d like to do it. Is this OK with you?” You’ll most likely get an enthusiastic “Yes!” But even if the answer is no, ask why, and you’ll get a better idea of the direction you can take next.