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Reactive vs. proactive: how to be the best manager in all situations

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

May 20, 2022

In life, there are two common types of people: reactive vs. proactive.

Reactive people are the ones who always seem to be one step behind, constantly playing catch-up. They let their circumstances dictate their actions instead of taking charge and shaping their world.

Proactive people, on the other hand, are in control of their lives. They take charge, make things happen, and don’t let their circumstances take over.

So, which type of person makes the better manager? The answer is: it depends.

Let’s take a closer look at the case for each.

Reactive vs. proactive management: what does each one mean?

Reactive management is all about reacting to problems as they arise. Proactive management, on the other hand, is about anticipating problems and taking steps to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Reactive management styles can be successful, particularly when there’s no time to waste. For example, a reactive manager may be the best person for the job if a company is amidst a crisis. They will quickly assess the situation and take whatever actions are necessary to resolve the issue at hand.

Proactive management, on the other hand, is all about prevention. A proactive manager will anticipate problems before they arise and take steps to stop them from happening. This management style is often most successful in the long term, as it can help you avoid potential problems.

Proactive management styles are also more effective for long-term planning. Proactive managers are always thinking ahead and looking for ways to improve their company. They’re constantly innovating and adapting, allowing them to change course when necessary quickly.

Reactive vs. proactive management: the pros and cons

So, which type of management style is best? The answer, again, is it depends. The best manager is one who can assess a situation and adapt their style to suit the needs of the company.

Reactive management: the advantages

  • Able to handle the unexpected and get immediate results
  • Assess and respond to problems quickly
  • Fast, efficient thinking during a crisis
  • Creative and innovative solutions driven by circumstances

Reactive management: the disadvantages

  • Often one step behind
  • Constantly playing catch-up
  • Letting circumstances dictate actions
  • Less prepared to mitigate risk

Proactive management: the advantages

  • All about prevention and risk mitigation
  • Anticipates problems before they arise
  • Takes steps to prevent issues before they happen
  • More successful in the long term
  • Contributes to a positive company culture of accountability and order

Proactive management: the disadvantages

  • Potentially less successful in the short term
  • Requires long-term planning
  • Involves more time and effort upfront

Reactive vs. proactive thinking: what are the causes?

A reactive mindset is common, and there are many reasons a leader might develop this management style. Some people develop a reactive personality due to their environment and upbringing, while others adopt these qualities from social and work experiences.

One of the most important factors is fear. People with a reactive mindset tend to be more fearful than those with a proactive mindset. They may be afraid of change, taking risks, or failing. This fear can prevent them from taking the necessary actions to achieve their goals.

Another important factor is anxiety. People with a reactive mindset often live in a state of anxiety, always worrying about what could go wrong. This anxiety can lead to indecision and analysis paralysis, making it difficult to take action.

Procrastination can also influence reactive thinking. Someone who struggles with time management and organization may put off important tasks and prefer to deal with new issues as they come up instead of planning.

Yet another factor is a lack of confidence, often known as imposter syndrome. People with a reactive mindset often doubt their abilities. They may feel like they aren’t good enough or don’t have what it takes to succeed. This lack of confidence can keep them from taking the necessary steps to accomplish their goals.

How workplace culture influences reactive vs. proactive behavior

Workplace culture plays a big role in reactive vs. proactive thinking. In many organizations, the culture encourages and rewards reactivity.

One example is rewarding employees for putting out fires or coming up with quick solutions to problems. Praising reactivity can create a vicious cycle where employees are motivated to continue the behavior.

Presenteeism can also lead to reactive mindsets. Many managers expect employees to be present at all times, even when they’re not needed. As a result, employees feel like they should constantly be on the lookout for problems, even when there are none.

Aside from this being an unhealthy mindset, it’s also draining. And if you drain the workforce, employees will have far less capacity for planning.

A lack of time and resources can also lead to reactive management. When managers constantly try to do more with less, they may not have the time or resources to plan for potential problems.

Hypercompetitiveness is also a factor. In cultures where managers frequently try to one-up each other, they may be unable to see the big picture (or even care about it). Excessive competition can lead to decisions that aren’t in the best interests of the organization.

To overcome a reactive mindset, create a workplace culture that encourages and rewards proactivity. Praise careful planners and deep thinkers who take the time to develop well-defined solutions. Set clear goals and expectations, provide employees with the resources to succeed, and give them the freedom to experiment and take risks.

How to be a more proactive manager

If you’re looking to be a more proactive manager, here are a few things you can do.

1. Start thinking ahead

Always look for ways to improve your company and prevent problems from happening. You can do this by staying up-to-date on industry news and trends and regularly brainstorming new ideas. You should also plan strategically. What does this mean? Plan for the future, but prepare to change course if necessary.

2. Be adaptable

Things change quickly in the business world, so you need to adapt easily. This means being flexible, open-minded, and willing to try new things. For instance, if you’re looking for a new way to market your products or services, be open to using new channels. It could be a golden opportunity your competitors haven’t considered yet.

3. Take action

A proactive manager isn’t just someone who thinks ahead; they also take action. So, when you have an idea, don’t just sit on it. Get feedback from your team, and implement new ideas immediately (with the proper planning, of course).

4. Think about growth

Proactive managers have their eyes on the prize. Think about how you can achieve your goals and move the company forward. Once you reach key milestones, set new goals and keep going!

5. Track your time

One of the best ways to become more proactive is to track your time. Establishing accountability will help you see where you’re spending most of your time, so you can identify areas where you can be more efficient. With practice, you’ll learn to cut back on waste and develop better time management skills.

6. Set aside time for planning

If you want to be more proactive, you need to set aside time for planning. Having the freedom to slow down gives you time to brainstorm new ideas, plan for the future, and think about how you can prevent problems from happening.

Make sure you schedule time for planning each week — and stick to it. If putting out fires is taking up too much of your time and energy, it’s time to chat with your manager about additional help. You can’t be proactive if you’re always dealing with hurdles.

7. Ask your team for feedback

As a manager, one of the best ways to become more proactive is to ask your team for feedback. They’re the ones who see you in action every day, so they’re in the best position to give you information on your performance. Ask them for honesty, and use their insight to change your behavior.

8. Be self-aware

Building self-awareness is one of the most important things you can do as a leader. In other words, pay attention to your strengths and weaknesses and understand how you tend to react in certain situations.

For example, does anxiety hold you back from seizing opportunities? Perhaps, you struggle to trust others and delegate work and, as a result, spend too much time micromanaging. Once you understand your nature, you’ll be able to make better decisions and prevent problems from happening.

9. Stay focused on what’s important

It’s easy to get sidetracked when trying to be more proactive. You’ll always have to come up with new ideas and face new problems. But if you want to be successful, it’s crucial to stay focused on the main prize. Prioritize your time, and devote most of your effort to things that lead you to the finish line. Everything else is just a distraction.

10. Trust your team

Proactive managers know they can’t do everything themselves. They need to empower their team to be proactive as well. This means delegating tasks, giving employees the freedom to try new things, and providing them with the resources they need to be successful.

11. Use project management software

Project management software can help you stay organized and on track. It can help you assign tasks, keep track of deadlines, and monitor your progress. And if you’re not already using it, now is the time to start!

Final thoughts

Managers benefit from developing diverse skill sets. They need the ability to think ahead, embrace new things, and be innovative, proactive, and organized. And most importantly, they need to be self-aware.

Being conscious of your shortcomings gives you the power to change them. If you know you struggle with scheduling, micromanagement, communication, organization, or any of the other things that lead to a reactive mindset, you’re in the best possible place to fix things.

And thanks to some great tools, you needn’t do it alone. Use project management software to help with tracking and scheduling and chat apps to check in with team members regularly. With tech to do the heavy lifting, you can spend less time worrying about the details and more time working toward your goals.



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