Up Your Business - October/November - 2016

Proactivity: A Good Start to Great Leadership

Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature in which I share stories, insights, and reflections about real business and life challenges.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating what it takes to be not just a good leader, but a great leader. Is there something you can start doing today that you aren’t doing now that will move you toward becoming a great leader?

In his 2001 book, Good to Great, Jim Collins identified 11 Fortune 500 companies that met his criteria for going from being good companies to great companies. He metaphorically called one of the criteria the Hedgehog.

A company’s Hedgehog was found within the convergence of three circles. Each circle identified one of three things Collins believed were critical in determining what the company’s primary focus should be by answering three questions:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are you best at?
  • What drives your economic engine?

In this article, I’m going to discuss why I believe being proactive is the Hedgehog for becoming a great leader.

Great Leaders Are Proactive

In a previous article — Manage Things but Lead People — I discussed the distinction between leadership and management. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

There are countless definitions for leadership. While the definitions vary, there are certain traits that repeatedly appear.

  • Leaders create and provide the vision and mission for their organizations.
  • Leaders determine the direction and rate of travel toward a goal.
  • Leaders focus on “what” and “why,” but delegate the “how” to management.
  • Leaders are committed to the vision as well as to their organizations and people.
  • Leaders are consistent, persistent, and resilient when facing adversity or being challenged by circumstances.
  • Leadership stems from influence… not from authority or power.
  • Leaders are people oriented.
  • Leaders bring out the best in others.
  • Leaders influence, inspire, and motivate others to achieve the organization’s mission.
  • Some leaders are anointed, appointed, or elected… but with rare exception, great leaders just show up and are recognized as leaders. They earn the role.

There are many more attributes that are associated with great leaders: integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, passion, vision, persuasiveness, and charisma, just to list a few. But I submit that both lists are without effect in the absence of proactivity.

While being proactive is inherently necessary for creating the vision, direction, and goal of the organization, it’s more far-reaching than you might think.

I recently took part in a leadership discussion group that defined proactivity as having or showing awareness of and preparation for the future. Additionally, proactive behavior refers to anticipatory, change oriented, self-initiated behavior in situations, particularly in business. It involves acting in advance of future situations rather than just reacting. It means taking control and making things happen rather than just adjusting to a situation or waiting for something to happen.

In contrast to other organizational behaviors, such as productivity, adaptability, and compliance, which are about responding to or coping with change, proactivity is about initiating change.

In his book, A Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl expanded the use of the word “proactive” to describe a person who takes responsibility for his or her life rather than looking for causes in outside circumstances or other people.

Frankl stressed the importance of courage, perseverance, individual responsibility, and the awareness that choices exist, regardless of the situation. Here are three of his most famous quotes:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Because proactive leaders anticipate and are forward-looking, preventive, and preemptive, they also tend to be responsive rather than reactive. In fact, it’s believed that the original word was preactive, but there was too much confusion with respect to the word reactive.

Proactive leaders tend to have the capacity to control or influence their environment, rather than being controlled by it. But they’re also selfaware, knowing their purpose and taking responsibility. To use a term Stephen Covey coined in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, they’re “respons-able” rather than blaming others.

Hall-of-Fame receiver for the Seattle Seahawks Steve Largent once said of quarterback Dave Krieg, “Dave was one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever played with. He always credited the team for our successes and took responsibility when we failed.”

Proactivity comes from within… affecting actions we initiate. Reactivity has to do with our actions taken relative to externally initiated events and situations.

Proactive leaders don’t blame others or transfer responsibility. A proactive leader would likely embrace the idea that life has no victims… only volunteers. They’d say that you can choose to initiate action or volunteer to be a victim of circumstances.

What Now?

Okay, what’s something proactive that you can do today to demonstrate great leadership? In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren states, “ it’s not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” This is from the section entitled Cultivating Community, which is exactly what a great leader does within his organization.

Here’s something proactive you can do to make your company great: Just as Jim Collins identified three keys for the good-to-great companies in his book, you need to identify them for your company. Additionally, and unlike the book, I believe you need to find them for yourself and each of your employees. Making your company great begins with making yourself and your employees better than you are today.

Here’s a model of the three overlapping circles. I’ve found that it’s useful as a self-evaluation tool, as long as you’re brutally honest when answering the three questions. I’ve also found it to be helpful in clarifying and balancing other interdependent aspects of life and business… things like: leader, manager, and producer. Just replace the descriptive titles for each circle.

Build a team that aligns with your passion, vision, and purpose. It’s important to recognize that passions change, and they differ between business and personal pursuits. (For more details on this, see my article, Let’s Go Fishing.) This produces energy and excitement.

Make sure you’re selling the services and products that you’re proficient (the best) at, in terms of both quality and speed. On an individual level, ask, “What do I do that makes the greatest contribution to the company?” This produces confidence and pride.

Make sure you’re able to produce them profitably. Remember that payoff doesn’t always mean money. For both you and your employees, payoffs can come in other forms, such as freedom, time, praise, awards, pride, benevolence, etc. (See my article, Payoffs — Everybody Wants One.) This provides a sense of security and peace of mind.

In addition to evaluating yourself and your company, you need to perform this process with each of your team members. To do this, you’ll need to spend time with each team member and get to know them on a personal level. Learn about their passions… career and personal: what excites them and what they would like to accomplish in their careers. You need to develop a passion for caring about them.

A side benefit of these private conversations is that they’ll feel more respected and appreciate that you cared enough to spend time with them on a personal level. Because people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.