Take the Initiative: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
June 27, 2023

The idiom "take the initiative" refers to being the first to act or lead in action without waiting for others to give permission. It's commonly used to highlight proactive behavior, suggesting that individuals who take the initiative are typically those who control situations and make things happen.

In short:

"Take the initiative" means to act without being asked or told to do something.

What Does "Take the Initiative" Mean?

When someone takes the initiative, they take control of a situation by being the first to act or do something that needs to get done without waiting for someone else to prompt them or give them instructions. It conveys a sense of ambition, motivation, and leadership.

Let's explore its core meanings and usage:

  • "Take the initiative" can suggest being the first to act in a situation rather than waiting for others to lead.
  • It can imply taking control or assuming responsibility, often in the workplace or in problem-solving situations.
  • "Take the initiative" can also be used in personal contexts, promoting proactive behavior in managing one's life or relationships.

Where Does "Take the Initiative" Come From?

The term “initiative” comes from the Latin word “initium” meaning “beginning.” The phrase “take the initiative” has been used since at least the late 1700s to mean beginning a task or plan of action. It has since evolved into a metaphor used in various contexts, from business to personal development, to emphasize the value of proactive and independent action.

Historical Example

"But it is not competent to his Majesty's ministers to take the initiative of bringing it before Parliament, and of taking the sense of Parliament on imperfect information.

- The Parliamentary Debates (Official Reports), 1815

10 Examples of "Take the Initiative" in Sentences

Here are some examples of the idiom in use:

  • Do me a favor, take the initiative, and help set up for the event tomorrow.
  • She took the initiative to organize the meeting herself instead of waiting for her boss's instructions.
  • If you want to plan the meeting, it's fine by me. Make sure you take the initiative.
  • You should take the initiative and lodge a complaint with the management.
  • After realizing they had misunderstood each other, he took the initiative to clarify and mend the situation.
  • I'll talk to you soon, but in the meantime, take the initiative to start working on that proposal.
  • Let's take the initiative and start working on this problem right away.
  • He took the initiative to start his own business instead of waiting for a job offer.
  • To find a substitute for these missing materials, we must take the initiative and research alternatives.
  • To further improve his health, he took the initiative to incorporate exercise into his daily routine.

Examples of "Take the Initiative" in Pop Culture

The phrase "take the initiative" is frequently used in pop culture, often encouraging characters or individuals to act proactively and independently.

Let's explore some instances:

  • "You take the initiative when you are the Power that wants something, in which case you naturally exert yourself to obtain it, while the adversary who merely says No to your request, acts only in resistance" is a quote from the 2019 book Britain at Bay by Spenser Wilkinson.
  • "Take the Initiative" is the title of one of the episodes of the podcast series "Discontinued Gravy."
  • "'Why should he take the initiative?' Leeann sighed: 'But what should I do? If I do nothing, nothing happens'" is an excerpt from the book Dare to Date by Aukelien van Abbema.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Take the Initiative"

There are various other expressions that convey a similar meaning to "take the initiative."

Here are some of them:

  • Be proactive
  • Take the lead
  • Make the first move
  • Seize the opportunity
  • Step up

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Take the Initiative":

  • What does "take the initiative" mean?

"Take the initiative" means to act independently, making decisions or starting tasks without needing to be instructed or guided.

  • How can I use "take the initiative" in a sentence?

You can use "take the initiative" in a sentence to express proactive action. For example, "Seeing the project was falling behind, Laura decided to take the initiative and worked late to catch up."

  • Where does the idiom "take the initiative" come from?

The phrase "take the initiative" originates from the military context, referring to the act of making the first move or gaining advantage over an opponent. It's now used more broadly to mean independent or proactive action.

  • Does "take the initiative" imply leadership?

Yes, "take the initiative" often implies leadership as it involves taking charge of a situation, making decisions, or starting tasks without waiting for direction or approval.

  • Is "take the initiative" used in formal or casual contexts?

"Take the initiative" can be used in both formal and casual contexts. It's often used in professional situations to encourage proactive behavior, but it can also be used casually to suggest taking the lead in various personal situations.

  • Can "take the initiative" refer to personal development?

Yes, "take the initiative" can certainly refer to personal development. It promotes self-driven action and proactive behavior, key traits in personal growth and self-improvement.

  • What's the significance of "taking the initiative" in the workplace?

In the workplace, "taking the initiative" is often associated with leadership and proactivity. It can indicate an individual's ability to independently identify and solve problems, make decisions, or undertake tasks, often being a highly valued trait in many professional settings.

  • Does "take the initiative" imply risk-taking?

Not necessarily, but it can involve some level of risk. "Taking the initiative" often requires one to step out of their comfort zone, make decisions, and act without complete information, which can involve taking calculated risks.

  • Can "take the initiative" refer to being assertive?

Yes, "take the initiative" can often imply being assertive. It involves taking active steps or making decisions independently, which requires a level of assertiveness.

  • Is "take the initiative" a universal concept?

Yes, while the phrase is English, the concept of taking independent action is a universal human experience and is recognized across different cultures and languages.

Final Thoughts About "Take the Initiative"

The phrase "take the initiative" emphasizes the importance of independent action and proactive behavior. Whether it's in personal life or professional settings, taking the initiative is often associated with leadership, assertiveness, and the ability to make decisions without waiting for guidance or approval.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Take the initiative" underscores the value of independent action and proactivity.
  • You can use it in both personal and professional contexts to imply proactive behavior or leadership.
  • It doesn't necessarily involve risk-taking but often requires stepping out of comfort zones.

This phrase is a reminder that being proactive and taking charge of situations can often lead to positive outcomes and is an important trait for personal development and success in many areas of life.

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