Could you tell me if there is any difference between take the initiative and show initiative? For example:

Micheal is someone who takes the initiative.

Micheal is someone who shows initiative.

  • 1
    All shown initiative has been taken but not all taken initiative can be shown.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 2:15
  • 2
    The connotation is slightly different. "Take" may or may not have an audience. "Show" implies others see one taking the initiative.
    – CodeGnome
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 15:13

3 Answers 3


The two formats are so similar most native speakers woulds barely distinguish them, but to the extent that there is a difference...

show initiative - primarily describes a character attribute (you don't need much supervision / guidance, you can make your own decisions)
take the initiative - primarily describes an action (you did something when others demurred, because you're "bolder")


Let's look at two definitions from Macmillan dictionary:

  1. UNCOUNTABLE the ability to decide in an independent way what to do and when to do it

Example: Mr Hills showed initiative and bravery when dealing with a dangerous situation.

  1. the initiative, the opportunity to take action before other people do take the initiative

Example: She would have to take the initiative in order to improve their relationship.

I think that between takes the initiative and shows initiative, the difference lies in the aspects of take and show. Take is a more active verb and refers to undertaking an action, that of doing something without being asked. Look at this definition from Collins

If you take the initiative in a situation, you are the first person to act, and are therefore able to control the situation.

Whereas show is more static and refers rather to demonstrating the quality/ability of assessing and initiating things independently (Targetjobs gives more interesting descriptions) or of being proactive as the site indeed.com shows.

When you type "show initiative" in Google, you get entries for both expressions though, because they are so very connected and used especially in work environments. Some even use them as synonyms.

However, the difference is definitely there, well spotted!

  • 1
    I think if the context is telling us what Michael is like (an aspect of his character), we'd nearly always phrase it as He shows initiative. We can use that form in the context of a specific action (He showed initiative by/in standing up), but when we want to link "initiative" to the action rather than the person, we're more likely to say He took the initiative by standing up. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 13:29
  • @FF: Yes, very well said. should I edit? I think your comment says it all.
    – fev
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 13:36
  • If you agree my distinction then by all means take whatever you want from my comment. I did already upvote your answer before deciding to post my own (much shorter) version. So I can't upvote you again if you include my specific perspective, but I think the more answers the better (so long as they're not obviously "incorrect"). Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 13:45
  • 1
    Since you answered, the information is there. I don't need to repeat it. Thank you for clarifying things, it helps me also!
    – fev
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 13:46
  • 1
    It's definitely useful to have multiple answers for relatively "imprecise" questions like this. Your point about taking control / being in control being more associated with taking the initiative is quite true, but I never thought to mention that myself. By contrast, when someone shows initiative, that more often implies they don't need to be tightly "controlled" (by a "hands-on" manager, for example). That looks to me like a useful aspect of the distinction. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 14:24

These are two different idioms.

To 'take the initiative' means to be opportunistic. For example, if you saw that a job or task needed doing but it was not your direct responsibility, you might take the initiative to do it.

To 'show initiative' means to demonstrate that you have the ability to see when a job or task requires action without prompting.

You can recognise the difference by the choice of preposition in their common usage. For example:

  • He took the initiative to change the broken light bulb.
  • He showed initiative by changing the broken light bulb.

So, to summarise, one means to do something opportunistically, the other means someone can recognise what needs to be done.

  • 5
    I don't thing this distinction is accurate. Taking the initiative (normally a positive action, acting on behalf of a group, usually because no-one else seems able / willing to do some necessary thing) doesn't imply being "opportunistic" (normally a self-serving negative action). To me, the main distinction (such as it is) is that taking the initiative usually applies to some specific action in some specific context, whereas showing initiative can often represent a character trait as well as a specific action at a specific time. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 13:16
  • I believe it would be better if you state exactly which means which, in the last sentence. Non-English folks might still be confused when they look at your last statement (like I am). I hope you don't mind doing that. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 13:17

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