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Transitioning Your Leadership Culture from Reactive to Proactive

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

We’ve all been there. You start your day armed with a plan and the best intentions. Today is the day you’re going to make a dent in that to-do list! But the urgent requests start rolling in, or you get stuck working out of your inbox all day and before you know it, your workday is over and your to-do list is untouched.

What if we told you that your leadership style could be the culprit of your lack of productivity? If you find yourself fighting fires more often than improving processes or reducing risk, read on to learn about Proactive vs. Reactive Leadership, and 5 ways you can make the shift!

Reactive Leadership

Sometimes in a crisis situation, reactive management is necessary, but it creates problems within a business when it becomes the norm!

Reactive leadership happens when you don’t have time to plan. Problems that appear to hit out of the blue force you to react as they occur, but living in constant firefighting mode is stressful, inefficient, and expensive – (it costs more to solve problems than prevent them). Planning and preparing in advance for problems that may arise will help prevent misguided priorities, lower quality work, and high turnover typically accompanied with reactive change management.

You know you are in reactive leadership when you spend a majority of your time:

  1. extinguishing those forever fires

  2. putting forth efforts but getting no change

  3. working for the business instead of on the business

  4. feeling out of control

  5. racing about and worrying the sky is going to fall

  6. being obsessed or seemingly trapped by trouble-shooting problems

  7. letting everyone think it’s Ok for you to be the only go-to person for answers

Proactive Leadership

Proactive leadership occurs when managers initiate the change from within and plan ahead to avoid or manage future problems. The benefits of living in a proactively managed world are pretty much the flip side of living reactively. You’ll experience reduced stress, greater efficiency, and lower costs.

Stop the cycle of reactive leadership, and formulate a plan that will help you and your team achieve success!

Additionally, when your staff understands the reasons and logistics of the change you’re implementing, they are more likely to accept those changes and ultimately you reduce turnover risk within your organization.

5 Steps to Make the Shift

  1. Step 1: Communicate. Change is uncomfortable – and sometimes even scary! Humans are creatures of habit. That’s why we order the same dishes at the same restaurants and shop in the same stores. The most important thing a manager can do to make the shift is to communicate directly and honestly with staff and board members. Let them know the rationale behind your organization’s new direction, and allow them to express their concerns. Once they feel heard, and understand their roles are a priority within the organization, you will find change implementation comes a lot easier and more successfully, too.

  2. Step 2: Shift your mindset from being “busy” to being “productive”, and in turn, become more effective. Focusing your energy and actions to support the critical goals that you know will drive success, rather than investing resources into what pulls you away from them, will allow you to have a greater impact on the business. Too often, being “busy” is glorified or treated as a status symbol of importance. In reality, being busy does not always equate to being productive or effective. Many times when people are “too busy”, its because they are prioritizing and/or managing time poorly, or just simply doing all the wrong things.

  3. Step 3: Take Control of Your Time. Getting stuck in a cycle of constant firefighting means the only way to break free is to find more time so you can proactively plan. Do this by prioritizing duties and putting those less-important tasks on hold, and incorporating more structure into management duties, including scheduled time to take care of spontaneous or urgent tasks – aka put out fires. You will be left with a list of your most critical responsibilities which you can then prioritize as needed. Those leaders that employ proactive management techniques effectively are constantly reviewing processes and procedures to help manage risk and reduce situations where reactive management is the only option. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to help you get started – draw it on a white board or simply a sheet of paper at your desk, and organize your to-do list based on importance and actual urgency.

  4. Step 4: Stop talking about how busy you are. This one is the most difficult to internalize and put into practice. You’re not the only one working, and you’re not the only one experiencing burnout, either. Chances are, if you are in firefighting mode, so is your staff. Stop talking about how much you have on your plate, and focus on goal-oriented action that will help reduce the pile-up on your desk, and propel you, your team, and your organization forward. Your team members will respect you more, too!

  5. Step 5: Boost Morale. If you’ve been leading or managing reactively, you can guarantee that your team has experienced stress as a result. Acknowledge this! And then let your people know your plans for resolving it. Thank your team for what’s being completed, and boost morale by celebrating even the smallest wins!

If you’ve been leading reactively, you have built a skill that will still serve you well in those instances where thinking quick on your feet is required.  Making the switch from being a reactive to proactive leader will not happen overnight, but you can use the steps above to help facilitate the switch and create a more positive and productive work environment for yourself and your team!

Sangfroid Strategy works with organizations to help them learn from where they’ve been, define where they want to go, figure out how to get there, and bring their team on the journey with them!

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