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Being the change you want to see — in the office.

Gandhi didn’t say, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” But the sentiment, whoever first expressed it, is a worthwhile one. It’s a more elegant way of saying that if you don’t like something, you should first look at what you, not someone else, is doing to change it.

Creating this change can be a challenge in the workplace. On the one hand, taking the initiative is considered a positive thing, and employers say they value it. On the other hand, organisational goals and structures don’t permit each employee to initiate continuous innovations or make significant changes quickly. This paradox is termed the “initiative paradox” — employers need both to contain and encourage employees’ energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. If companies harness this initiative correctly, they can pull the business forward, without pulling it apart.

The Manage Mentor has an excellent article on seven aspects of resolving this paradox. Those aspects are goal alignment; drawing lines; trust building; dynamic accountability; socialisation; exchange processes; and selection. Use of these tools can result in the best and most productive kind of proactivity — getting out in front of challenges and problems with all the force of properly channelled employee initiative.

If you’re a manager or executive, don’t just wait for improvement to happen around you. Start thinking about it, and doing it, now.