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Published on March 29, 2021

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.[1] 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.[2][3]

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.[4] 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.

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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,[5]

“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.[6] 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.

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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.[7] 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:[8]

“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.

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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,[9]

“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.

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Featured photo credit: Mimi Thian via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Luis C. Almeida

Dr. Almeida is a college professor and department chair who has taught over a thousand students with questions relating to technology and leadership.

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Last Updated on April 27, 2021

How To Accept Responsibility For Your Life (7 No-Nonsense Tips)

How To Accept Responsibility For Your Life (7 No-Nonsense Tips)

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you are human. This means that there is likely a time or two when you have not taken responsibility for something in your life. We’ve all been there. Maybe you broke an item at a place of employment but didn’t fess up to it, or you missed a deadline and blamed the reason why on someone else, or perhaps you decided a responsibility was too great to face.

Accepting responsibility can be challenging because it doesn’t always feel good. It can require time we think we don’t have. Feelings of shame or inadequacy can surface. Rather than face those feelings, it’s much easier to not accept responsibility.

This is all understandable. But it may not be serving us and who we want to be in the long run.

Accepting responsibility has benefits at work, home, and all aspects of life. When we demonstrate to ourselves that we can be responsible, we show our strength of character, our leadership qualities, and even our adulting skills.

Knowing that doesn’t make accepting responsibility any easier, does it?

Using the example of pretending that you live in an apartment with multiple roommates where you all have to share the kitchen, we will look at seven tips on how to accept responsibility for your life.

1. Stop Playing the Victim

You’ve just cooked a big meal involving several pots, pans, and cooking utensils. You reflect on feeling overwhelmed and stressed by life right now and decide that you just don’t have the time or energy to do your dishes right now. The next time you or your roommates want to use the kitchen, there’s a big mess and a lack of options for pans and cutlery to use.

Maybe one of your roommates will do it for you? Superman to the rescue? I hate to break it to you, but Superman doesn’t actually exist.

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Why insist on crushing every childhood fantasy? Because when we wait for someone else to fix our problems, we are playing the victim, and if Superman doesn’t exist (or Spiderman or Wonder Woman, or Black Panther, etc.), then we will be perpetually tied to the proverbial train tracks, waiting for someone else to save us.[1]

What we can do in this situation is acknowledge and validate our feelings. In the above scenario, you’re focusing on feeling overwhelmed. This feeling isn’t “bad.” But it does affect your motivation to accept responsibility, keeping you in a victim mindset. It isn’t just the dishes that you need to face. You also need to take responsibility for your emotions.

Acknowledging and validating emotions help you to understand what you’re feeling and why. You can then redirect the energy you’re wasting on being a victim and redirect it toward more productive things in life. Like doing your own dishes.

There are many different ways we can develop the skill of self-acknowledgment and validation. One of the best is to write about what you’re experiencing. You may be surprised by how you describe the “what” and “why” of your feelings. You may even uncover other times in your life when you felt this way and find that your current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are based on that past. You might even heal an old experience as you deal with the present circumstance!

2. End the Blame Game

“If my roommates were more consistent about doing their dishes, then I would feel like I could do mine.”

It’s so easy to come up with excuses and reasons why we shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than anyone else. We find interesting ways to blame others for why we can’t do something. This becomes another way to avoid taking responsibility, and we can do so out of a perspective of anger.[2]

Anger can be energetically compelling, but it’s not always rooted in reality. It can keep us stuck and prevent us from having the life and relationships we really want. Much like being the victim, it’s important to ask yourself how being and staying angry is serving you. Again, it’s important to acknowledge and validate these thoughts and feelings too.

Perhaps you’re really feeling mad at someone at your workplace who isn’t taking responsibility for their own projects. You end up taking on their work, allowing anger to build up. By the time you get home, you need a place to let that anger out. And so, your anger is directed toward your kitchen and your roommates.

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This may help you feel better for a little while, but it’s not sustainable. There are so many ways of dealing with anger. It would serve you and others around you well to learn how to manage and work with any anger you have in your life so that you can resume your acceptance of responsibility.

3. Forgive Yourself and others

After reading tips number 1 and 2, perhaps you are now adept at practicing acknowledging and validating your feelings. Because of that work, it’s easier to forgive yourself and others.

For instance, without the feelings of victimhood and blame, you have the energy to see things from a perspective of forgiveness and tolerance.

From a place of forgiveness, you see that even though your roommates don’t take care of their dishes right away every time, they do so more often than not. Plus, you can see that all of you have challenging things happening in your lives right now, so why should your challenges make it so that you can slack off? You may even remember times when your roommates have helped you out with cleaning the kitchen even though the mess wasn’t theirs.

As you forgive others, you forgive yourself too and take ownership of your own tasks.

4. Use Responsibility as a Way to Help Others

Shirking our responsibilities can actually affect others’ well-being. We can step into a space of considering how our actions, or lack thereof, might be burdening or harming others.

For example, not doing your dishes and leaving the kitchen dirty means that when another roommate wants to use the kitchen to make a meal, they may have to clean the kitchen first to have access to the pots, pans, and utensils required. They may feel annoyed that you didn’t take responsibility for your mess, which affects your relationship with your roommate. A confrontation may be on the horizon.

However, if you can put yourself in the frame of mind to consider things from your roommate’s position, you might think twice about leaving the dishes. By taking responsibility and doing your part to keep the kitchen clean, you are taking care of the space and your roommates.

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A lot of people find it easier and highly beneficial to do things out of a sense of responsibility for others.[3] Thinking about things from another’s perspective can be a motivating factor and can provide us with feelings of purpose.

5. Look for the Win-Win

When we choose not to take responsibility, we are choosing a zero-sum game, meaning nobody wins. What if you looked for the win-win opportunity of taking responsibility instead?

Maybe there have been times when your roommates have saddled you with a messy kitchen. If you now decide to leave your mess, nobody wins. Whereas, cleaning up after yourself now means that you are modeling how you want the space to be treated by everyone. You are also ensuring that your roommates can trust you to take responsibility for your cleaning tasks, and the next person who wants to use the kitchen will be able to do so.

In this scenario, you will be taking responsibility, cultivating a relationship of trust with your roommates, and making it so that nobody else has to clean up after you. Everyone wins.

6. Make Taking Responsibility Fun

Another vantage point from which we could look is the place of joy. Yes, joy.

It’s easy to paint “cleaning the kitchen” in a negative light when shows are streaming on Netflix and downtime activities calling. But what could happen for you if you made the task of doing the dishes fun?

How can it be fun? This is where you get to be creative.

Some ideas could be playing some of your favorite music as you clean, invite a roommate to chat while you clean, or you could play that show you’re binging on Netflix as you scrub. Have Airpods? Call a friend as you clean!

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Finding a way to make it fun helps you lose track of time and get the job done faster. It could also provide some necessary “play” time. We don’t play enough as adults. Get back to your childhood roots and find ways to incorporate play into your daily routine, and get the dishes done at the same time!

7. Choose Your Own Adventure

When we approach responsibility from our highest self, we can be at choice for how we want to accept it. This requires an awareness of what we intend to accomplish or learn in any life experience.

For instance, when faced with a responsibility, you could consider all the ways of looking at it (from a place of victimhood, blame, forgiveness, service to others, win-win, or fun) and decide which perspective would serve the highest good of all, yourself included.

When we can approach any life situation from the standpoint of having choices, doesn’t that feel better than feeling forced into a decision or action?

Conclusion

Knowing that you can make conscious choices at any time in your life hopefully helps you to feel freer and more energized for any life responsibility you choose to accept. These seven tips on how to accept responsibility will set you up for a good start.

More Tips on How To Be a Responsible Person

Featured photo credit: Marcos Paulo Prado via unsplash.com

Reference

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