This article is part 4 of a many part series treating the Marine Corps Leadership mnemonic, JJDIDTIEBUCKLE

Definition: Initiative is taking action even though you haven’t been given orders. It means meeting new and unexpected situations with prompt action. It includes using resourcefulness to get something done without the normal material or methods being available to you.

I am currently on a Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage, John Travolta action movie bender. Dozens of 1980’s and 90’s action-packed glory. I probably need help at this point, but I can’t stop/won’t stop.

Fortunately, I have noticed some real pearls of wisdom. Every great action movie is filled with characters who know just what to do when things go bad. Where to go, what to blow up, or whom to take down.

The motif is important. It’s the idea of people who just get things done with no guidance even in disorder or duress. In a word, “initiative”.

Here are some elements of the motif behind initiative:

  • Expertise
  • Communication
  • Respect for competence
  • Trust

When your team has the expertise, communicates well, there is general respect for each other’s professional competence, and general trust, initiative will thrive.

Which means your team will thrive.

The sign of a great leader is when you can embrace the decisions your subordinates make which are reasonably correct and run with them. The truth is that most all decisions can be course corrected, but a decision needs to be made in the first place. Embracing decisions from your subordinates creates more decisions. Unwarranted criticism of subordinate’s decisions which you were not equipped or confident enough to make in the first place creates team paralysis. And you are to be blamed.

It’s a mark of an immature leader that creates paralysis. And the gates of leadership hell (“heck” for those in Utah) swing wide and hungrily for those who refuse to make a decision till a subordinate is forced to and then proceed to criticize. It’s a gross feat of cowardice.

I have seen managers avoid making a decision (that would tie them down) and then browbeat those who saved their bacon by making a call. I’ve seen managers chew the buns right off well-meaning subordinates who made pretty solid decisions, just because it wasn’t the decision the manager would have made. The erosion of trust and confidence is staggering. Initiative ceases.

Soon you get a “leader” musing about if they only had a better team.

“There are no bad battalions, only colonels”, said Napoleon Bonaparte. That translates to “there are no bad teams, only leaders.” Let that sink in.

I assume you have expertise in your role and understand why communication is important (go read “Crucial Conversations”). On showing respect for people’s competence, that gets downright philosophical. I’ll give you a free tip: If you find yourself being a jerk-wad, stop it! That’s it.

So let’s focus back on the trust piece. This is hard, yet freeing. Do you have what it takes? Are you confident enough in your professional game to allow your people to develop through decision-making? Even though the buck stops with you? I hope so. A great leader will allow subordinates to step into and mimic higher roles (including their own). There’s no experience like hands on experience.

I have seen great leaders defend their subordinate’s decisions because their subordinates making increasingly complex organizational decisions is part of a well-foundedleadership development program. The overwhelming majority of those leaders then gain their own bosses respect. Because trust takes guts. Being a sneaky weasel does not.

An organization which embraces daring-doo, putting aside ego and public displays of perfection (which no one buys anyway…sorry), is a strong one. But the culture which values the false forms of flawlessness over the function of leadership development will watch its talent launch daring escapes. Then they’ll gripe that “kids these days don’t know how to work!”

Want to create leaders? Represent initiative yourself and protect the initiatives of your subordinates. It is key.


  1. Create communication by not being a critical jerkwad
  2. Let your people make decisions
  3. Support their decisions, course correct as needed, but above all, run interference for them

I’ve been rebranding people through career and life coaching, writing resumes and building LinkedIn profiles for years from my online vacation home at I love public speaking and helping people identify what they want to do with their talents. Preferably we hike a mountain while talking. I can be reached at or (858)522-0194.

About Jake

Veteran, professional career coach, resume writer, LinkedIn builder.

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