Being proactive is explicit and purposeful. Leaders don’t wake up one day and start thinking way ahead. In fact, leadership is so purposeful that if you don’t plan to lead, you’ll manage at best. Being proactive is the same way. You have to plan to be proactive. If you don’t have a plan to be proactive, you’ll be stuck being reactive. This is why most managers spend the majority of their time in the urgent unimportant aspects of work and the least amount of time in the important most critical areas of work (Covey, 1989). Turn that around with three key strategies:
- Make a list of what you’re not going to do. This is one key strategy that Collins tells leaders to do if they want to go from Good to Great (2001). It doesn’t mean that these items won’t get done. It may mean that someone else should take the lead. Next to each item, write the name of the person who you can delegate it to. These people should be your “critical influencers” as Gruenert and Whitaker call them (2015). This will free you up to think about the things that need to happen in your organization to sustain it into the future. We tell leaders to stay in one of two zones: 1. Evaluator—this is of people, programs, and initiatives. And, 2. Innovator: this is the stuff that makes your company different, new, and growth oriented. You can’t do either if you’re constantly managing in the moment.
- Plan your day and set your schedule in a way that’s proactive. Check your work-week schedule on Fridays for the following week before you head home for the weekend. Then, on Sundays plan ahead by looking at what each day will bring. How long will each day be and what are the scheduled tasks, meetings, etc. that will occupy your time? Again, is there someone who can just as well attend in your place? Label each calendar item with a P or an R. In other words, which blocks of time are working towards you being proactive for your organization, planning something that will sustain success into the future? And, which items are reactive in nature, due to something that wasn’t foreseen by your team or wasn’t supposed to happen the way it did? Calculate the amount of time and energy that you spend on being proactive versus being reactive and adjust accordingly. If your calendar is planned out and set for months into the future, this may take time to change, but that’s what we mean by planning to be proactive. It doesn’t happen without effort.
- Reflect after each conversation, each meeting, each day, and each week. This should be explicit too with an official note taking strategy, which will bring you right back to number one. Write down what you’re not going to continue to do and write down what needs to be accomplished for the future sustainability of your organization. Proactive leaders think so far in advance that they often have a ten year plan with specific goals for each year, goals for themselves and goals for their organizations. If you don’t have the best practices, new ideas, upcoming initiatives, and processes that you plan to implement in 2016 already worked out down to the minor details, well then, you have work to do if you want to be a proactive leader. Find time each day to reflect and you’ll see how you can transform your own thinking for the better.
Leadership comes naturally for very few of us. Instead, we learn to lead, practice leadership principles, and study leadership theory to hone our skills. Being proactive is no different. It takes a plan and a concerted effort. You must remove obstacles, think differently about your role as a leader, and see into the future. Use these three key strategies to change your direction, and let us know how it worked for you.
Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great. New York: HarperCollins Inc.
Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press.
Gruenert, S. & Whitaker, T. (2015). School culture rewired: How to define, assess, and transform it. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.