Initiative: A Sneak Peek

Joshua Spodek '93CC, '96, '99GSAS, '06BUS
February 28, 2019

Ahead of the release of his new book, Initiative, Columbia Career Coach Joshua Spodek shares an excerpt with The Low Down on the link between passion, initiative, and action in your career. Visit his website to learn more about the book, and how to get your copy.



Rafael came to me for help. He couldn't stand his managers at the media firm where he worked. He had an MBA and an undergraduate degree from top schools and worked hard to reach his position. He earned plenty of money and performed well. He wanted to participate in strategic decisions. The firm was small but they never accepted his proposals.

He said, "Josh, I can't work for other people anymore. I have to start a company. You've started companies. Please help me start one." He didn't have an idea or team. He didn't know what company he would start. He wanted something different.

We started working together. I coached Rafael through a simple program of exercises to help him find direction and reach his goals. A few months later, instead of having started a new venture, he was working happily at the same firm on a project that his managers valued and gave him ownership of.

They gave him responsibility for his project's success or failure, which might before have caused him anxiety, but they also gave him the autonomy and resources to make it happen, which turned the anxiety to enthusiasm, even excitement. He also worked fewer hours for the same pay. He was happier, more productive, and enjoyed his time and relationships at work.

He took no time off or formal classes. He only did those few exercises with me. His managers didn't change. He didn't suddenly get another degree. He didn't magically become reborn with new skills. He didn't get it from watching Shark Tank.

How did he create this result?

He created his project, involving his managers in the process, so they happily gave him ownership. He helped them enough that they helped him back.

Looking back, he saw that he wanted responsibility and ownership—not the low-level non-operational parts of starting a company like finding office space and registering with the state. He felt he needed to act dramatically because he only knew two options—stay or leave—not to take initiative to create an outcome he wanted.

What changed?

He developed the social and emotional skills, experiences, and beliefs to solve a problem that he cared about and helped others enough that they rewarded him for it. He created a supportive community. That is, he took initiative to find a problem worth solving, figure out tentative solutions, work with relevant people to refine the solution, and show people with resources how he could do it.

What he did wasn't hard. He enjoyed it more than the work on his job description. He had just never taken initiative like that. On the contrary, his formal education prepared him for the opposite—to comply and follow. Involving the decision-makers in the process as he did led them to trust him and feel a vested interest in his success. He put the resources the project needed in the plan his managers helped him create so that marshaling them became part of the project. He didn't need impossible-to-get connections, funding, or any other resource to start. He didn't need to be born with special genes or a gift to sell.

In short, Rafael solved a problem he cared about that helped others enough that they rewarded him for it and implemented it. Doing so uncovered passion that he'd always had but didn't sense. He could have acted earlier, but he thought he had to do everything himself. He thought he needed answers for everything before presenting anything. He didn't see that he had access to people who could have provided the resources he needed, including his managers.

He took initiative in business, but could have applied the same skills in his social life, family, friends, community, or any part of his life.

Spodek, bestselling author of Leadership Step by Step, coaches executives, entrepreneurs, and rising leaders, with over a decade of experience coaching and over two decades of leadership and entrepreneurial experience. He is also an Adjunct Professor at NYU, leadership coach for Columbia Business School, columnist for Inc., and founder of He leads keynote talks and workshops in leadership, entrepreneurship, and creativity. He holds five Ivy League degrees, including a PhD in Astrophysics and an MBA, and studied under a Nobel Prize winner. He co-founded and led as CEO or COO several ventures and holds six patents. Learn more about Spodek and the rest of the Columbia Career Coaches Network.

Image courtesy of Joshua Spodek