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Do You Have A Reactive or Proactive Style of Leadership?

Is there a lot of urgency in your workplace? Are you a Reactive Leader - reacting quickly to problems and finding solutions? Or are you a Proactive Leader - having the luxury of time to contemplate all the issues to a problem, thinking about the big picture and making sure that you are solving problems for both the the short and long-term?

A Proactive Leader tends to be much more focused on achieving his or her business results through tapping into the power of their team. Whereas, the Reactive Leaders is focused on finding and fixing problems by him or herself.

Reactive vs Proactive: The Mindset Difference

Reactive Leader Proactive Leader
Needs to have, and use own answers Understands the power of, and uses team in solving problems
Is tell oriented Is coaching oriented
Makes decisions by self Requests that team members make decisions
Pushes for Results Shares a vision so compelling the team wants to move towards it
Reacts to change Foresees and influences change
Teaches team to expect direction Teaches team to be self-reliant
Is concerned about self first Models teamwork and concern for greater good
Produces reports first Creates and communicates values first
Is afraid of losing control Knows giving up control yields the best outcomes
Focuses on finding and fixing problems Focuses on achieving performance outcomes
Quick to punish for mistakes Helps team to learn from errors
Uses rules to make decisions Uses principles to make decisions

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


Take Action: Complete this Reactive-Proactive exercise:

  • Using the scale at the bottom decide where you lay on the continuum

  • You can then judge if you need/want to undertake some self-improvement to move your style of leadership

  • Decide which, if any, of these attributes you chose to focus on and improve your capability in would have the greatest impact on your team achieving its performance outcomes

  • In what ways could you make improvements in these areas?

  • What specific action could you take TODAY that would make a difference?

You Don't Have To Be An Expert At It All!

As mentioned on the leadership strengths page, do not expect to have expertise at everything, but do be aware of those areas that may be your undoing, and manage around them. However, should you decide to make some shifts remember ...

There are no quick fixes, and it is your persistence that ensures on-going success. Should you decide to make a change in your style of leadership, do not do it for a short-time and then decide it doesn't work. It takes a long time to turn the Titanic around - don't give up, because you could be just about to get the results you want.

There are no right or wrong answers for any of this.

There is certainly a time and place for a Reactive Leadership style, just as there is a time and place for a Proactive Leadership style. If the plane is about to crash, the last thing any of us would want the captain to do, is to gather his/her team around him/her and ask them what they think we should do in this situation!

However, be wary of being so comfortable with the Reactive style of leadership, that you get caught up in saving the plane every day. That you do not (or cannot) flex your style of leadership to the situational demands.

Be Flexible

High Performance Leaders are able to flex their style according to the situation at hand.

They easily move up and down the 0-10 continuum as is appropriate. It does, however, take conscious effort. You need to be aware of what is going on around you and make conscious choices as to how you respond.

When you get good at tapping into the power of your people you'll certainly deliver faster, better results.

Here's an example of how this style of leadership thinking applies in the real world

When I was working at Colgate-Palmolive, one of our Production Team Members volunteered to take on the organization and management of the casual labour pool. This meant she arranged for the casual staff to come in, as and when they were needed, and supervised their work. (All this over and above her 'normal' duties of running a filling line.

After a year or so, she came to me and said "I'm not happy with the quality of people the agency are sending us. Their customer service has dropped. Also, I think we could get a better rate elsewhere. Can you do something about it?"

Now in the early stages of my career, with my Reactive style of leadership (and my need to feel important) hat on, I would've immediately got on to the agency, negotiated prices and demanded they improve the quality of casual labour they were sending to us and improve their customer service. At the end of the process I'd have figuratively rubbed my hands at a job well done (by me) and subconsciously thought, how very important I was ... with all these problems to fix and I did indeed fix them! (Isn't hindsight a wonderful thing - you can so laugh at how much you've grown and changed)

Instead, because of the wonderful mentoring I have received over the years from some terrific leaders, I put my Proactive Style of Leadership hat on. I wanted to develop her skill set, and capability to tackle issues such as this.

So, my response was "What do you think we should do" and then "How do you want to go about it?". Instead of providing her with solutions, the project was turned over to her (obviously, with as much support as she felt she needed), so that she could grow and learn.

At the time she struggled with the whole concept of providing feedback to the agency about their lack of customer service, and negotiating with a number of alternative suppliers. (It was a whole new skill-set, she never dreamt she would develop - which has come in handy in negotiating her home loan!).

The silent message that was sent to her, was: You ARE GOOD ENOUGH, I have absolute faith in your capability to make a good decision, and to handle these people well, AND you have my support when you need it.

By the end of the process she had saved the company about $20,000 per annum. She took over the management and control of the entire Casual Budget. She created a training schedule for casuals and monitored their performance, ensuring they were working productively and safely at all times.

We went from a budget that had previously been somewhat out of control to consistently coming in under-budget. and the quality of the workmanship of the casuals significantly improved. She certainly took a lot of pride in this part of her job, and it helped improve her self-esteem for the long-term.

What did we get out of this? For the team leaders, it meant that it freed up about 20 minutes a day spent on managing casuals. We had a team member who was very focused on getting the best value from the casual staff (something the team leaders really didn't have the time to do). Significant cost savings to the bottom line. And finally, a team member who felt that what she did makes a difference.

A simple shift in a style of leadership, with dramatically effective results.

Here's a learning opportunity for you:
  1. In what ways have you been frustrated, in the past by people coming to you for even simple decisions?

  2. Considering the above example, what might you do differently next time to better wean your team members from running to you for every decision?

  3. What would be the benefits to your organization? For your team? For you?

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