Reactive Vs Proactive: How To Be Proactive And Not Reactive

Reactive Vs Proactive: How To Be Proactive And Not Reactive


For us to know how to be proactive and not reactive, we first need to know what these terms mean. When we are reactive to problems, we react to previous events instead of attempting to anticipate future ones. When we decide to be proactive, we choose to act on a situation before this situation becomes a crisis. Managers must be “strategically proactive,” as I like to say, so they can do their regular day-to-day work and still have time to spend on improvement efforts.

How exactly can you become more proactive and not reactive to become a better, more thoughtful innovative leader? The good news is that there are several ways for you to develop proactive leadership.

In this article, you will learn why you should think long-term, seek to understand others, develop organization skills, aim for 80/20, be open to ideas, and have a calm demeanor to set you apart as a leader and are excellent ways to show proactiveness to your team.

Why Should You Be Proactive and Not Reactive?

Before I go into more detail about proactiveness, I would like to say that any person can be a better leader by being more proactive. It is difficult to go wrong when pre-planning, developing problem-solving and listening skills, and keeping in touch with your team becomes a habit for you. Proactive continuous leadership improvement is necessary, expected, and beneficial to us all.

Dwight Eisenhower once said,

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

A condition for planning is being proactive.

In simple terms, great leaders are proactive. Mediocre ones only react. Instead of waiting for events to occur and having to handle a crisis unprepared, why not engage in strategic planning from the beginning with the intent to anticipate problems and come up with solutions?

Being a proactive leader must be your only choice in leadership if your ambitions are to advance your career forward in business.

6 Strategic Ways to Be More Proactive and Not Reactive

To be a more proactive leader, you need to engage in pre-plaining and attempt to anticipate events. Try the following activities, adapt them to your area of practice, and test and see if they enhance your position as a leader.

The following are excellent exercises to make you into a more proactive leader and not reactive.

1. Think Long-Term

You must first understand that short-term thinking is antagonistic to the idea of proactive leadership because today’s short-term goals should, at one point, have already been yesterday’s long-term goals. Reactive leaders often fail to see the big picture, which is one of the core elements of proactive leadership.

Successful leaders understand the value of long-term thinking and avoid the baits of short-term returns. Ingvar Kamprad, Swedish billionaire and founder of IKEA, once said,

“I decided that the stock market was not an option for IKEA. I knew that only a long-term perspective could secure our growth plans, and I didn’t want IKEA to become dependent on financial institutions.”

Have you been engaging in long-term thinking lately? I hope so. Long-term thinking has helped IKEA to be a corporate giant. It can help you be a giant leader! Unless an immediate emergency arrives, strive to think long-term to become a proactive instead of a reactive leader.

2. Seek to Understand Others

To be a proactive leader, you must seek to understand others. Remember, “Leadership is influence,” as Maxwell eloquently said. By seeking to understand the members of your team—their likes, challenges, aspirations, and frustrations—you will gain important insights on how to influence them appropriately. Without having the capacity to understand others, it is impossible to lead because leadership is applied in a group activity.

Be compassionate, loyal, and full of integrity because these attributes will help you show your team that you are committed to understanding them. Remember that one of your main tasks as a proactive leader is to be trustworthy. Seek to understand others! It will help you build trust with your team.

As a Department Chair of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) without being an African-American, I rely on first understanding others before I even attempt to propose a course of action. Understanding is key in the work that I do. I need the influence to advance the unit forward. My vision to understand my team becomes a strategy for having a buy-out later on in my long-term strategy.

3. Develop Organizational Skills

Proactive leaders don’t have time to spend reacting to the environment since time is of the essence for them. Therefore, wasting time isn’t an option for them.

Don’t waste your time, develop organizational skills, aim high and think long-term. In a previous article, I stated that “aiming high is almost always synonymous with aiming long-term.” Let’s say it one more time: “Aiming high long term can’t be accomplished without organizational skills because proactive organized leaders like you and me often check on their long-term goals and daily needs.”

Make sure to have your files organized, have an agenda with deadlines, manage your appointments efficiently, learn to delegate tasks, and reasonably engage in decision-making. You will need these organizational attributes if you want to be a proactive leader.

4. Aim for 80/20

Understanding Eisenhower’s Box, former President Eisenhower’s productivity tool, can be of great help for you to better understand the 80/20 rule. He once said,

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

Clearly, Eisenhower believed that urgent and important were not the same thing. Well stated! Proactive leaders understand that although team improvement is important (20% of the time), the focus should be on your regular work (80% of the time) because we often do our best work not on urgent but on important tasks.

Leaders who have more time to think and plan will execute tasks more effectively. Aim for 80×20, period.

5. Be Open to Ideas

I was once told by a close friend that people are living encyclopedias. This thought made me realize that everyone has something interesting to share. Ed Krok believes that as well:

“Our employees are often our best source of information.”

I happen to agree with him wholeheartedly on this assertion. A proactive leader leverages the information shared by his employees. I most certainly do, I must add.

As the old saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.”

In his book, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs, Joshua Wolf Shenk writes about how open to ideas John Lennon and Paul McCartney were to one another. One would compose and write something and the other would complement what was written and vice-versa. Clearly, these geniuses of music understand the power of being open to ideas. Proactive leaders practice exactly that to strategically plan future events that are to come.

6. Have a Calm Demeanor

Proactive leaders don’t scream at others because they understand the value of not making emotional decisions. They prefer to make objective decisions planned ahead of time using elements of strategic thinking. As Miki Markovich says,

“Proactive leaders are compassionate, loyal, integrity-filled, straightforward, calm, direct, fair, polite, hopeful and thoughtful.”

A reactive leader reacts to immediate stimuli and may have the habit of managing themselves poorly, making screaming behavior a predictable event. Don’t be like them. Dare to be different and focus on inspiring others by being calm and controlled. Your team will appreciate this gesture and your influence will increase.

Final Thoughts

It pays off to be a proactive leader versus being a reactive one. Reactive leaders think short-term and rarely apply their 80×20 rule—that is a mistake and is rooted in small thinking.

Big is good. Go big or go bigger! In this article, I presented six ways for you to be more proactive as a leader. Take advantage of them. You won’t be disappointed, believe me.

Featured photo credit: Mimi Thian via unsplash.com



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