Jul 112012

Last week, I talked about how good it was when individuals approached their lives proactively rather than reactively. You often can’t enter an open door of opportunity if you’re not already prepared. However, in groups, too much general proactivity can be disruptive. In stable groups, harmony and respect for traditions can be comfortable and help bind members together.

In business, an employee is often tempted (or required) to be reactive. They may be content to do what they are told – simply doing their job and then coming back tomorrow and doing the same job in the same way. That is not bad in itself. When the job doesn’t change and the rules are well-known, the same responses in the same recurring circumstances keep things going smoothly. People who like predictability, and like for things to remain as they were before, can be happy doing this kind of work, especially if they are part of a team and able to share social connections.

I’m not just talking about low-wage jobs. A professional is, by definition, expected to be a highly-trained practitioner of a narrow specialty. In fact, you can expect that the more training they get, the narrower their specialty. They go to school and learn a great deal about a field such as architecture or law. And, having mastered the accepted standards of their specialty, they apply their training over and over again to particular types of problems. Such elite professionals can be very successful, and acquire remarkable wealth in this way. A conservative worldview does not prevent them from achieving great professional and economic gains.

A business middle-manager can also be reactive and still be successful. A manager’s job is about choosing TACTICS from available options. Managers gather measurements of compliance, compare these to expectations, and then adjust policies or budgets. This continuing feedback process can bring the system under their control back into expected norms. I’m not being critical. This can be very challenging, important, and rewarding work.

However, every business, social, or political LEADER is responsible for STRATEGY. They MUST be proactive to be successful. A leader must get out ahead of things, imagine possible futures, and make decisions about issues that most other people cannot see. A good leader is a master of change, recognizing where things are not working and sometimes reforming entire systems to adapt to new situations.

A good leader understands that many people resist or actively obstruct change. A good leader works persistently when necessary or presses for rapid adjustments if urgency demands it. Sometimes incremental change is no longer good enough and the group must transition to something entirely new. In any event, a good leader is always proactive about moving us forward.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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