"Initiative is a rare skill, and thus a valuable one."
-- Seth Godin
Having worked in many different jobs and many capacities from ditch digger to general manager to business owner, I have seen so many ways that manager's and business owners kill initiative. The most common method is micro-management. The second most common way is by excessive rules, regulations and standardized procedures. Yet, at the same time, I have heard so many managers and owners complain that they can't find people who just go do the job without having to constantly guide them. They say they want initiative, but they kill it at the same time. It sounds strange and is a dichotomy in action, but if you've been in the business world for very long, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Isn't that just the way it is sometimes: we see it happening, we want something different, but we don't do anything different, and we expect a different result. Or, is that like growing up hearing, "don't do as I do, do as I say?" So, what can be done?
If you're a manager or owner, my first recommendation is to start looking for what works instead of what is not working. So, go find sincere ways to compliment your staff and catch them doing things well. Praise each and every indication of initiative no matter how small. You will find that there is absolutely nothing so powerful and encouraging as praise. If you feel a strong need to correct a behavior, or action, do it in private after you have pointed out several positive aspects of what they do and then do it matter-of-factly and explain your reasoning so they start to see the plan rather than just the "way we do things."
In other words, encourage initiative! There's no better way to get more of this than through praise and encouragement. You will be amazed what this will do for your team and it will do it in a very short time.