By the end of this article, you will understand better what it means to be proactive, why it is important for leaders to be proactive rather than reactive, and ways in which leaders can be more proactive.
- Define what being proactive is and what sets it apart from being reactive.
- Talk about the reasons why people love a proactive leader.
- The importance of being a proactive leader over being reactive.
- Explain the traits that every proactive leader should have.
- Describe the rules of proactive leadership.
- Explain how more people can become more proactive.
Run through the summary of all the points and reiterate the importance of being a proactive leader.
Anyone that has ever planned or executed anything will tell you for free that having some problems pop up in the middle of the project is inevitable. The magnitude of damage or set back that those problems will have on your results depend on just how prepared you are to deal with them. Without a proper plan in place to handle these eventualities, even the smallest problems could blow up into the most catastrophic crisis.
Being proactive is the key to being productive, feeling more in control, and prepared because you must have already established precautionary steps for any eventual circumstance. Being proactive, as the name implies, means that you prepare for something before it happens. The reverse of being proactive is behaving reactively to situations by waiting for them to unfold before you do anything. The actions of a proactive person will determine how events unfold, while the unfolding of an event determines how a reactive person would act.
One of my favorite analogies of this scenario is comparing both behaviours to a thermostat and a thermometer, with the former representing being proactive and the latter representing being reactive. Both devices have something to do with temperature but their mode of actions and therefore their usefulness sets them apart.
A thermostat reads the temperature of the environment it is in and tries to regulate it. If the temperature level gets too high or too low, the thermostat proactively adjusts itself to keep the environment within the desired temperature range. It constantly reads the room to ensure that nothing beyond the desired temperature outcome happens. On the other hand, the thermometer doesn’t do anything spectacular except read the temperature of the environment it is placed in. It just reacts to whatever is happening around it; it doesn’t directly influence change nor does it do anything to manage the environment around it. There’s nothing inspiring about the actions of a thermometer – it will just absorb whatever it finds in the environment and reacts to it. If the temperature is cold, the thermometer reflects the cold. The same thing happens when the environment is warm. All it does is react.
A proactive person, like the thermostat, is visionary. They keep reading their environment and anticipating changes, so they can implement the appropriate actions to curb whatever unwanted actions occur.
Why Do People Love a Proactive Leader?
A proactive leader will have a constant read on the stress levels, emotions, conditions, and general morale, of the people and environment around them. When it gets too difficult, they know how and adjust to make everyone around them at ease. Because they constantly monitor their environment, they know when it is time to switch things up. They know when it is time for fun breaks and serious work; they know when their people need a firmer prod and when they need to be left alone to things out on their own. If it gets too hot, they cool things off by having a calming effect on the people. They are listeners, nurturers, supporters, and advisors. People trust them better because they inspire confidence and commitment.
A reactive leader, on the other hand, will react to their environment – meaning that they will take in the temperature of the environment and give back corresponding energy. So if they find themselves in a tense cold environment, they tend to lose their cool and become critical, harsh, irritable, impatient, and sometimes, may even lash out. They are feeders, not nurturers. They take their cues from the people they are supposed to lead, instead of the other way around. A reactive leader will not boost the morale of the environment they find themselves in, neither will they inspire trust, commitment, or confidence in the people they lead. Rather, people are wary of them because of their outbursts.
Importance of Being a Proactive Leader
Proactive leadership simplifies leadership, yields better and positive results, and encourages a better environment, whether work-related or not. Some of the benefits of being a proactive leader include:
- It helps you to be more prepared for different situations because you've already thought about all the things that could happen and created an insurance plan to avoid any possible problems.
- Because you are ready for any unexpected problems, it helps to save time, resources, and money that would otherwise be wasted on finding the right solutions to problems after they have happened.
- You can better avert problems before they happen because you uncover them on time and minimize the risks of exposure.
- You can better recognize the need for change because you think ahead and can see the areas that need improvement.
- It helps you become more creative in achieving results as you aren't your hands aren't tied down trying to react to events that are unfolding. You can see the bigger picture and bring a fresh perspective towards attaining your goals.
- It gives you more options and more flexibility for actions.
- It gives you peace of mind because you have crossed all your T's and dotted all your I's.
These are only some of the benefits that can be enjoyed by being a proactive leader. You can see and plan things better because you aren't sitting back and waiting for them to happen but you anticipate them.
Traits That Every Proactive Leader Must Have
- They think long term and focus on the bigger picture.
- They inspire others to be better.
- They are highly organized.
- They are great listeners and communicate well.
- They know when to ask for help and advice.
- They have excellent problem-solving skills.
- They take criticism well.
- They know where their team strengths lie and how to use them to the best capacity.
- They have loyalty, compassion, and integrity.
- They have a confident and calm demeanor.
The Rules of Being a Proactive Leader
One of the reasons why proactive leadership is encouraged is so that leaders can de-escalate high tension situations and manage situations without falling into a sense of panic, urgency, or crisis. That's why there are rules to guide the actions of a leader to ensure they remain proactive. These rules will help you to choose the way to act and respond to situations so you remain on top of them at all times.
- Have a set of values that you follow: You should know what your core values are, understand them, and make sure to line by them at all times. Your values will serve as an anchor when you begin to feel adrift and clueless. They will also be the compass that direct your steps on the right path. Every effective and proactive leader should have a solid value system that acts as the base for all their actions.
- Always look for the bigger picture: As a proactive leader, you cannot afford to be distracted by myopia or biases. Always wait for the bigger picture before you make your own conclusions.
- Know the people you lead like you know yourself: A leader should always know who they can trust or count on to handle certain decisions. A leader is only as strong as their team. Only by understanding your people and judging their strengths, weaknesses, and measuring them to the situation can you create the best possible plans.
- Always anticipate that problems will arise: No plan is fool proof. After you have your Plan A, create your backup plan for Plan A before you move on to your Plan B. You can never be too prepared. Every action, inaction, spoken word or silence will have consequences and you should anticipate them. Always be one step ahead but take care to not overanalyze situations so they don't cripple you.
- Be transparent: Let your values, goals, objectives, plans, and likely course of actions be clear as day to everyone around you to avoid ambiguity and confusion. It helps others to anticipate your reactions and needs and also influence their actions as well.
- Communicate clearly and effectively: Communication is not about who shouts the loudest or who can talk the longest. It's about getting your message across to as many people as you can and making sure they hear and understand you clearly. A broken line of communication has ruined many effective plans.
- Always follow up: Don't assume that because you have planned so well, it will go smoothly. To ensure that your plans are actually rolling underway, always follow up on people that you have delegated tasks to. It helps to remain abreast of events so you can make necessary changes as the need arises.
Once you can remember these rules and use them to guide your actions, they ensure that you act proactively towards situations rather than reactive.
How To Be More Proactive
It is easy to talk about being proactive but what we shouldn't fail to consider is that some people are naturally not built that way. They are more like thermometers than thermostats when you put them to the test. However, you can work on transform your reactionary self into a visionary one, and here's how to do it.
- Always read your environment but focus more on the future: When you drive, there is a reason your windshield is larger than your rear-view mirror. That's because what's in front of you is more important than what's behind, even though you occasionally have to take pointers from behind to ensure you are still on the right track. Take note of the past to ensure you aren't making mistakes but don't dwell on it because that's not what is important.
- Take personal responsibility for success: As a proactive person, you cannot afford to take the backseat when it comes to decision making. You have to always be thinking of ways to be better; ways to improve; ways to reach your goals with fewer problems.
- Always think of the big picture: There will always be little things vying for your attention. It is up to you to determine if they are important enough to distract you from your major purpose or something you can delegate for some other time.
- Focus more on the things that are within your control: As much as we encourage you to be proactive, it doesn't mean you have to be a control freak. Part of being a visionary is understanding what things are beyond your control, what things you can outsource to others to help you with, and what things you should focus your attention on. In the long run, this helps to mitigate stress factors that could hurt your well-being or progress.
- Learn how to always prioritize: Some things are more important than others and that's okay. It's also okay to limit your focus on those important things so you don't spread yourself too thin and fall back on the spectrum of being reactionary while bouncing between tasks. Focus on a few big goals that will yield your results instead of focusing on several small goals that lead nowhere.
- Try to imagine every possible scenario and think through them: What are the likely things that you expect to happen if you decide to take a step? Think through them and create plans. Your plans may change or you might end up not using most of it, but considering all the likely scenarios and creating plans around them will help you be prepared for when they occur.
- Don't wait for things to happen, make them happen: This is probably the most important aspect of being proactive. Don't wait, crossing your arms to see what happens before you act. Being proactive means taking the initiative to venture out into the unknown and make things happen, knowing that you are prepared for anything that will happen after.
People will gravitate towards and are more open towards a proactive leader than a reactive leader because they inspire trust, confidence, and commitment from their followers. It is easier to trust their judgment because it is result-oriented and not hurriedly put together to patch things up.
Proactive leaders get things done by developing problem-solving techniques, policies, and programs to help whatever community they find themselves in. They also take initiative and risks to produce the outcomes they desire.
Proactive leadership is not about being always on the move, or moving with urgency, or even about moving fast at all. It's about getting a mindset that keeps you grounded even when things aren't going the way you planned. It is about choosing to respond to things on your terms rather than having to make do with the cards you are dealt with.