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Top Ten Reasons Your Employees Won't Take Initiative (plus One Bonus Reason)

Frustrated leaders often ask me, "Why won't my employees take any initiative?" To be sure, before you can overcome employee reluctance to take initiative at work, you need to explore the conditions that cause to avoid it in the first place. Here are some reasons they might resist:
  1. They don't know that you want them to take initiative. Managers often assume that their employees know, or ought to know, that they want them to take initiative. Unless you tell them, they won't know.

  2. The rules get in the way. Having too many written or implied restrictions leaves little room for initiative taking and forces employees to surrender their creativity to the chain of command.

  3. You're a Why would employees take initiative when you tell them in painstaking detail how to do every aspect of their jobs, or override them when they do take initiative?

  4. You've taken away their self-esteem. If your negative-leadership approach has convinced employees that they are inept, they'll be unlikely to take on extra work and open themselves to additional criticism.

  5. They don't understand the big picture. Half of all workers are unable to see a link between their jobs and their organization's objectives. If they don't know what they're trying to accomplish, they can't see beyond their current task.

  6. They're afraid. Humans have an innate desire to contribute, but that passion conflicts with our natural instinct to protect ourselves against things we fear--things like rejection, failure, embarrassment, or retaliation. Unless you make it safe, taking initiative is scary.

  7. They want to avoid failure. Individuals who take failures personally have an exaggerated sense of their own incompetence. They view taking initiative as futile since they expect to fail.

  8. They're lazy. Believe it or not, some employees are lazy; for them, taking initiative means doing extra work.

  9. Someone has burned them before. Some workers are still nursing wounds from prior initiative-taking episodes. Someone empowered them and they took some initiative; then, that person stripped away their power and criticized or humiliated them.

  10. They don't see YOU taking any initiative. If you're not willing to travel outside your comfort zone, why should they do it? As a leader, you must summon the courage to chart the course, venture into the unknown, challenge defeat, and risk disappointment. Your initiative will encourage others.
BONUS REASON: They're only in it for the money. Employees need to know how aligning with the organization's will meet their personal interests and needs. Without frequent confirmation from their leaders, employees might decide the organization's values are not what they thought they were. If they perceive, whether accurately or not, that management changed or somehow misrepresented the values, employees feel unaligned, lost, and foolish for having trusted the employer. As a result, their initiative diminishes and money becomes their primary motivator.
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