Three steps to becoming a proactive leader

Proactive leadership may seem counterintuitive to our reactive minds, but it will go a long way to help avoid potential risks or dangers on a project.

By Shon Isenhour, Eruditio November 4, 2016

Life pushes us to be reactive and we learn from an early age. Young kids stick a fork in a power outlet or touch a hot stove and then we react. Reactive learning is the predominant learning style as we grow and it is how we learn the concept of cause and effect. Later in life, we are told that proactive is better, which seems contrary to how we’ve been shaped and molded in life. Why should we go proactive when it seems to counterintuitive?

While reactivity may have taught our ancestors to run from the saber tooth tiger, proactivity would have allowed them to avoid the saber tooth tiger in the first place or at the very least show up with a weapon for protection. Proactivity lessens the chances of needing reactive leaders, which is better overall for your health. Why stir up the hormones if you can identify the potential risk early and address the problem before it attacks like a saber tooth tiger?

No matter what the project or task is, these three steps can help in being a more proactive leader.

  • Decide what success for the task or project looks like. What are the goals? How do you know you have won? Knowing these elements helps with the follow-through on activities. 
  • Second, ask what could impede or jeopardize the project or task’s success. List out each of these risks. Some will involve other people while other involve resources. Think about the worst-case scenarios and list as many as possible. Also, categorize these risks by their severity, likelihood of occurring, and the ability to proactively detect. 
  • When that’s done, create a plan to address the high-risk items early before they occur. Many of the steps to address the risks will be communication action items that will need to be drafted in advance to explain that an issue is expected and that it being handled.

While not foolproof, these three overarching steps will help you avoid being eaten by the saber tooth tiger you are trying to manage.

– Shon Isenhour is a founding partner at Eruditio and is a part of Plant Engineering’s editorial advisory board. This article originally appeared on Eruditio’s blog. Eruditio is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media,

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