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Willingness to initiate action without being instructed to do so is a distinguishing characteristic of the courageous follower. Courageous followers assume responsibility for events in their vicinity-whether it be a customer service complaint or an opportunity that, if seized, can produce a quantum leap forward for the organization.

If we are to strengthen our capacity to initiate it may help to bear in mind these factors:

As courageous followers, we view ourselves as full participants committed to shared values and a common purpose. We are not spectators; we don’t just watch, we act.

When a common purpose guides both the leader and follower, control shifts from the leader to the purpose itself; we don’t require permission to act in ways that forward the purpose.

If we understand the organization’s purpose, we can initiate fresh ways to communicate that purpose and to pursue it.

We need to keep sufficiently informed to understand the context and nuances of events so we can initiate responses to unexpected threats and opportunities with confidence and judgment.

It is our responsibility to understand what risks are acceptable for the organization and what risks are unacceptable.

It is a failure of responsibility not to act when the risks are acceptable and the purpose and values of the group would have us act.

It is a failure of responsibility to act when the risks are unacceptable and acting endangers the organization’s purpose or violates its values.

Leaders usually support acts of initiative unless followers appear to be redirecting the spotlight to themselves at the leader’s expense. If the initiative is motivated by service to the common purpose and not self-aggrandizement, leaders are prone to treat it with collegial respect—the follower is sharing the responsibilities of leadership.