Taking initiative is about picking up organizational challenges to solve without being asked and delivering results. Taking initiative is a well-known way to achieve stardom at workplace. A FastCompany article has this to say from the book How to Be a Star at Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed:

For stars, initiative generally has four elements: It means doing something above and beyond your job description. It means helping other people. Usually it involves some element of risk-taking. And when you’re really taking initiative, it involves seeing an activity through to completion.

Here are a couple of other rules about initiative: First, before you take on anything new, make sure that you’re doing your assigned job well. Second, remember that social initiatives don’t count for much. Organizing the company picnic or a blood drive won’t get you the kind of recognition you want. They’re fine things to do – but do them because they bring you satisfaction. Third, the kind of initiatives that matter to your career are those that relate to the company’s critical path. Find out what promotes the company’s core mission, and tie your initiatives to it.

However, taking initiative is hard:

Taking initiative to solve specific problems is still one of the best ways of being effective. Here is an example: if your project has too many requirement changes coming in every week, one way to solve this problem might be to stay in close contact with the product manager(s) and change as quickly as requirements come. But effective people probe it further and may realize that things are changing because product manager has been meeting with customers without understanding our own capabilities and hence just passes on the requirements without understanding or validating. They then go one step further and help to the product manager by attending the customer meetings, explaining the product and current plan of record and how it solves all of their problems, provides 1-1 training to product manager and creating a set of slides for the product manager to understand and use for next time.

To illustrate some of the points below, I will use an example: A is a developer in a software company and B is the project manager of the team of 10 engineers in which A is a developer. According to B, A never meets his deadline even after repeated reminders, and B thinks maybe A is just lazy, or slow who will jeopardize this project. He is thinking of asking the project leader (C) to intervene. This is a very critical project for the company and many other projects depend on the success of this project and it must be delivered in time and with quality.

Here are some of the things effective people do when they taking initiatives:

Notice that ‘taking initiatives’ conjures up an image of big organization initiatives like ‘improve cross-group collaboration by using social media’, involving many people and groups and with very ambitious (and sometimes fuzzy) goals. However, in the context of effectiveness, taking initiative is all about picking right problems to solve which has very specific outcomes. These may be big changes (‘change the requirement tracking tool’) or very small (‘create a template to capture requirement changes’), but they solve well-defined problems. Also, sometimes this will involve solving problems which lack glamour and mass appeal (and so doesn’t get noticed by those who can make you star!). Consistently being effective by taking initiatives does make you a star employee in the long run (and such a stardom is more stable), but it may take a long time.