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The Paradox of Proactivity: When Leaders Grapple with Too Many Initiators

As a leader or owner, can you imagine what it would be like if you had more employees who took initiative? Does that sound like something you dream of? “Yes please! Sign me up!”

I hear that a lot from leadership teams – that they “just want people to take initiative” [insert frustrated groan]. And if they had employees like that, then things would move along so much better and sh*t would actually get done with less headaches and acid reflux.

Well I’m here to burst your bubble. Not for the sake of being the “Negative Nancy,” but as a steward of your success. This is “The Elephant in your Boardroom” after all.

Firstly, you do want SOME employees who initiate. You just don’t want a whole lot of them – Which is what most leaders and owners think they want. So that’s what I am addressing here.

Having employees who take initiative can bring numerous benefits to an organization, and is generally seen as a positive trait. I don’t want to disregard that. However, an excess of it can lead to several challenges in an organization.

>>>Before discussing the issues let’s clearly define how we are referring to “initiative.” Initiative as a verb is assessing and taking action independently. Initiative as a noun is a project or goal within an organization. In the context of this article, I am speaking to the verb as a trait or attribute of a person.

Ok, onward…>>>

Here are some issues that may arise if there are too many employees who take initiative:

  1. Managerial Challenges: This is number one on the list intentionally. Many leadership teams like the sound of employees who take initiative so they can let go of some things or be a little more hands -ff. Whelp, sorry to say but managing a team with many proactive employees can be very challenging. Leaders may struggle to provide adequate support and guidance to individuals who are already taking the lead, and conflicts may arise over differing opinions on how to approach certain projects and goals.
  2. Lack of Coordination: When too many individuals take independent actions without proper coordination, it can lead to confusion and conflicts within the organization. This creates differences in priorities that might overlap or contradict each other, making it difficult to achieve overall goals successfully or efficiently. It’s all willy-nilly!!
  3. Problems with Resource Allocation: Achieving goals and completing projects require resources such as time, money, and manpower. If there are too many individually initiated goals and projects happening at once, these resources can be spread too thin leading to inefficiency that hinders the successful completion of any single one.
  4. Reduced Prioritization of Core Objectives: With everyone pursuing their own project or goal, there is a risk that departments or the organization as a whole may lose sight of its core objectives and long-term strategies. Important projects might be neglected or receive inadequate attention.
  5. Silos and Lack of Collaboration: Too much individual initiative can lead to the creation of silos within the organization. This is prioritization based on personal perspective. Employees may become overly focused on their own projects, hindering communication and collaboration between different departments or teams. This is when the spelling of “TEAM” suddenly changes to include an “I”.
  6. Burnout and Stress: Some employees speak up when they are tired or on the verge of burnout (whether they call it that or not). And some employees do not speak up or even recognize it. Constantly taking initiative and driving projects forward can lead to burnout and increased stress levels among employees. With too many employees taking initiative without direction or guidance then Leadership is unable to keep a pulse on things and support those team members who need and don’t ask for it.
  7. Resistance to Change: If employees are too focused on their own priorities (independently initiated), they may become resistant to changes or suggestions from others. Because of the level of ownership they take, it end up feeling like a punch to their pride. Their unwavering commitment can hinder the adoption of new ideas or improvements that could benefit the organization.
  8. Inconsistent Results: Without a clear framework or guidance for evaluating and prioritizing, there may be inconsistency in the outcomes and quality of projects undertaken. Some goals might succeed, while other projects may fail or not reach their full potential. This is when leadership teams see lots of surprises, and not the good kind.


I mentioned that I don’t want to completely disregard the positives of proactive employees too. Here are two of the top benefits:

  1. Empowerment and Employee development: Encouraging initiative empowers employees to take ownership of their work and develop their skills. When employees feel their ideas and actions are valued, they become more engaged and invested in the success of the organization.
  2. Problem-solving and Decision-making: Proactive employees are more likely to tackle challenges head-on and seek solutions independently. This reduces the burden on management to address every issue, as employees can address problems at the initial stages, preventing them from escalating.


I chose these two benefits because they are the primary reasons that leaders and owners desire more employees with initiative. But let me be clear, that having employees with initiative does not mean that they do not require oversight and accountability support.

That oversight and support can look like implementing effective communication channels, promoting cross-functional collaboration, and having a system to evaluate and prioritize projects/goals.

To see the success desired from having proactive employees, organizations need to define their secret sauce consisting of a healthy balance between employee initiative and maintaining clear overall direction. This allows leaders and owners to optimize team performance, while mitigating the challenges that can arise from having too many proactive employees.

Thoughts? Questions? …I’d love to hear ’em!


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