Proactive vs. Reactive Management

Oct 12 2023 | Perspectives
Three women and one man are sat in an office space on sofas having a meeting.

A strong and capable leader plays a crucial role in the success of any business or organisation. As a leader, you have the ability to improve productivity, efficiency, and employee morale, all while maintaining respect and trust. So, what makes a good leader? A clear vision of the future, a good handle on relationship building, and, importantly, how you handle risks.

Risks can be sorted into two categories: hazards and opportunities. Approaching these risks can be defined further using the terms ‘proactive management’ and ‘reactive management’.

You probably already have an idea of which management technique you should generally be striving for, but let’s take a look at the characteristics of each management technique.

What is Reactive Management?

Reactive management is defined as responding to situations as and when they happen with little regard for planning. This style is, generally, best avoided because it isn’t useful for averting problems or preparing for the future. To give a real-world example, a reactive leader would simply offer a refund to an unhappy customer instead of addressing the underlying issue to prevent unhappy customers in the future.

However, it’s also important to note that there are positives to reactive leadership when the time is right. For example, this style can be effective if there are time constraints to decision-making. Tapping into your reactive side in these circumstances will help you deal with emergencies and avoid disaster.

In certain instances, all you can do is react to unforeseen circumstances and learn from them later on. This is particularly true if you’re new to a business or team and haven’t had time to implement proactive strategies for all possible scenarios. Knowing how to deal with the pressure of this is an extremely important skill, and one which reactive management techniques can help with.

What is Proactive Management?

Proactive management means having the ability to anticipate and adapt to hazards or opportunities. It means being confident in your decisions because they’ve been properly researched and assessed. To illustrate, consider the case of an underperforming employee, an uncomfortable situation for both new and experienced leaders. A reactive manager may only respond to issues with this employee when they become severe and even then, only prompt ad-hoc fixes, never really addressing the root of the issue. On the other hand, proactively adopting a systematic and constructive approach, while prioritizing the employee's growth and development, transforms what could be a stressful and uncomfortable situation into a valuable opportunity for learning and improvement.

How to be a Proactive Leader

Being a proactive leader involves:

  1. Actively listening

  2. Analysing and prioritizing feedback

  3. Having a vision

  4. Learning from mistakes

Practice Active Listening

Pay attention to feedback – this could be from employees, customers, clients, or peers. Tips include: facing the speaker, maintaining eye contact, not interrupting, and ensuring you’re really understanding what’s being said.

Listening is just as useful a skill as speaking and one that will set you apart within the leadership space. It’s fundamental for building motivation and trust in your workplace. This practice ties in with Transformational Leadership, a great way to create positivity and nurture relationships.

Analyse and Prioritize Feedback

Really taking the time to sit with the feedback you’ve received can be conducive to identifying solutions and innovations. A practical strategy to help you do this is to sort feedback into manageable categories, allowing you to address them methodically. Once you’ve organized your feedback and you fully understand it, begin to prioritize your next move. What best aligns with the goals you’ve set for your business? What will have the greatest impact?

Have a Vision

Having clear goals is extremely useful to yourself as a leader and to your business. Your goals should be based on feedback you’ve received, and you should be vocal to your workforce about these goals at all times.

Your vision doesn’t have to be set in stone, however. Be flexible with it. Encourage brainstorming sessions for your team or clients so that you’re always getting a diverse range of perspectives and are constantly adapting.

Learn from Mistakes

If results can’t be seen straight away, try again! Keep analysing feedback, figure out what went wrong the first time, and modify your approach. Being a proactive manager is about being agile and dynamic. There’s no use adopting a stubborn mindset in response to mistakes when they can easily be transformed into opportunities.

Ultimately, knowing when to adapt to a proactive or reactive management tactic is crucial for your success as a leader.

15% of the workforce is considered to be run by ‘new managers’, most of whom have not had effective training. You can help your managers and supervisors thrive with EZRA Management Coaching, tailor-made to prepare managers for new challenges and help them grow. Alternatively, if you’re interested in updating and enriching your own leadership style, try out world-class Leadership Coaching.

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