We must train ourselves to break out of reactivity and become proactive explains Chrissy Scivicque
I’ll never forget the first time my boss paid me the greatest compliment I could hope for.
I was working as an Executive Assistant, supporting the senior managing partner of a small wealth management firm. He had just asked me to complete a task for him with a deadline of the following afternoon.
In response to his request, I said smoothly, “I already did it. It’s on your desk.”
For a moment, he was speechless. Then a big smile broke out over his face, and he said the words I had been longing to hear.
“You read my mind!” he joked. “Thanks for getting ahead of that.”
That’s when I first realised the power of being proactive.
As an administrative professional, you’ve probably noticed that there’s an unspoken expectation that you’re a mind reader. The person or people you support might verbalise this in several different ways. A common phrase I used to hear was, “I want you to stay two steps ahead of me.”
In short, the leaders you work with don’t want to have to tell you what to do. They want you to just know and then do it. They want you to be proactive.
Now, let me be clear: You are not a mind reader and unfortunately, I can’t teach you how to have that magical power.
However, when you successfully master the skill of proactivity, you often look like a mind reader. You’re so on top of things, you’re actually ahead of them. As a result, you’re able to predict potential problems and prevent them. You’re able to see obstacles coming from a mile away and, by acting early, you can usually manoeuvre around them or (at the very least) minimise their negative impact.
From the outside looking in, you appear to be practically psychic!
Sadly, a vast majority of the population is not proactive. In fact, they’re the exact opposite: They’re reactive.
When you’re reactive, you’re merely acting in response to events and circumstances as they present themselves. You’re waiting to be told what to do rather than looking ahead and figuring it out on your own. You’re allowing yourself to be at the mercy of everyone and everything around you instead of using your personal power to influence those things.
Being reactive is very stressful. You feel a lack of control. You feel like you’re always playing catch up and never getting ahead. Reactive people tend to encounter the same problems over and over again. Often, these problems are preventable and predictable—but reactive people are so focused on responding to their current circumstances, they miss the early warning signs and take action too late.
Breaking Out of Reactivity
Most people are highly reactive by nature. As humans, we must train ourselves to break out of reactivity and become proactive.
Certainly, it’s worthwhile noting that there are times in the workplace when we simply must be reactive. We can’t predict exactly what the future holds; we must be agile enough to respond in the moment to whatever pops up—especially as administrative professionals!
However, we must also learn to balance that with proactivity. We must look ahead and play an active role in creating our circumstances—not merely responding to them. We must make smart decisions and take effective action today for the sake of creating a better tomorrow.
The process of learning how to do this can be tricky. After all, business leaders and management gurus are always preaching to “be proactive,” but few ever follow it up with tangible advice for how to do that.
Personally, I got fed up. That’s why I launched my own personal research project aimed at really defining what it means to be proactive and how to master this skill once and for all.
The Proactive Skillset
What I discovered in my research was astounding. First, being proactive isn’t just one skill, as most people believe. It’s actually a whole set of skills. In order to be proactive, you must hone your abilities in all six of these key areas.
Here are the skills as I’ve defined them, along with a brief explanation of what they mean:
- Big Picture Understanding: The ability to use broad business acumen to synthesize information and create a holistic view of the professional environment.
When you’re reactive, you’re stuck in your own little bubble, focused on your own narrow perspective of the world. You’re unaware of what’s happening outside that or how it might impact you, now or in the future.
To be proactive, you need to understand context—all the things that are influencing you and your world. Think about it: How can you attempt to control your circumstances when you don’t have a full and accurate understanding of all the things that contribute to those circumstances? You can’t.
- Situational Awareness: The ability to observe and interpret immediate surroundings to enhance understanding of present circumstances.
When you’re reactive, you spend a lot of time on autopilot, doing things merely out of habit or routine. As a result, you miss a lot. You’re not really present. You might be physically there, but you’re not mentally there.
To be proactive, you need to be mindful and engaged in the here and now. After all, you can’t proactively plan and prepare for the future if you don’t first understand the present.
- Future Focus: The ability to create a clear vision of the future by defining desired results and identifying action items.
When you’re reactive, you’re just going with the flow. You’re so focused on today that you never have time to think about where you’re going. As a result, you don’t actually go anywhere! You remain stagnant.
To be proactive, you need to always be thinking about the destination—your goals and objectives—and what it takes to get there. That way, regardless of what the future holds, you can adjust your course to keep on track.
- Strategic Foresight: The ability to use logic and imagination to anticipate opportunities, obstacles and outcomes.
When you’re reactive, everything catches you off guard. You’re not able to see things coming—even when they seem obvious in hindsight.
When you’re proactive, you can begin to predict what’s coming next and prepare for it ahead of time. I like to say that this is where the magic really happens! It’s all about evaluating what’s possible and what’s probable, and making intelligent calculations about what to expect in the future.
- Intentional Action: The ability to initiate timely, deliberate action to create a desirable future state.
When you’re reactive, your actions are often unconscious, done out of impulse or instinct. Sometimes, you might wait to act until it’s absolutely forced upon you.
When you’re proactive, your actions become conscious and thoughtful. You take initiative. With the help of the other skills in your Proactive Skillset, you’re able to take intelligent risk and act, even when it’s hard or scary.
- Self-Evaluation: The ability to critically assess your behaviors and results and make appropriate adjustments to enhance future outcomes.
When you’re reactive, you avoid the difficult task of self-reflection. Why take responsibility for when you can simply be a victim? It’s easier and more comfortable to just blame circumstances, rather than look at your own part.
Proactive people, conversely, are eager to honestly assess themselves and make improvements for the future. They learn from experience and course-correct when needed.
I’ve spent the past decade refining this model and it’s the most comprehensive one available on the topic. (In truth, it’s the only one).
By focusing your time and energy on these six areas of development, you’ll become a more proactive professional. In the administrative field, this can truly differentiate you from your peers in a very positive way.
You may never master that elusive skill of clairvoyance, but once you become proactive, you won’t need to. You’ll have real, tangible tools to help you prepare for the possibilities of the future.
You’ll be in control of your own destiny.