• Wesley Aleshire

Reactive plus Proactive equals Strategy

Updated: Oct 16

I’ve always seen the battle between, Proactive and Reactive as a fascinating idea. Some people believe that being reactive in the workplace is wrong and that it only exists as a result of lacking a proactive approach. That's not entirely true.

Instead, like many other approaches that are seen as “one way or the other” we tend to lean towards previous experiences, something that has tied a lasting memory to our subconscious.


If that memory was good, we support it, if it was bad, we don’t. If you really take the time to think about it, you may conclude that this creates an Ingrained Subjective Mentality. Those last 3 words can be troubling. No one wants to admit to any kind of subjective mentality but it impacts everyone at some capacity, no matter how small it may be. We aren’t perfect, right?


Let’s look closer at the ideas behind being Reactive. In the workplace, this is more commonly referred to as something like “putting out fires”. I believe the adverse perspective of being reactive is attributed to the more common use of the approach, the “overusing” of it. If the people around us feel that we are always reactive, it could very easily be perceived as the result of lacking a Proactive mentality.

So, if you believe that perception does exist, start mixing a little Proactive into your Reactive. Then throw some Proactive in there without any Reactive at all. I realize this sounds a bit confusing, so here is a scenario for clarification:


Let’s say you have someone who puts customer files together and places them on your desk for review prior to having the customer sign all of the paperwork in their file. When reviewing them, you consistently find errors in the file. You react by placing a sticky note on the file and returning it to him or her. Over time, this has become a common reaction. Unless the responsibility includes leaving errors in files for someone else to find, there is an opportunity for improvement in how that person completes files and how you respond.


Now, add a little bit of that Proactive to the situation. The next time you get the stack of files and you review them for errors, rather than adding a sticky note to the files, take some time to talk with them. Let them know that you found errors but that you’d like them to show you where they are. That doesn’t mean aggressively return the files and tell them to fix it as you go on with your day. Instead, sit with them and offer guidance as needed so that they can successfully identify where the errors are without you giving them the answers. By taking this approach, you are reacting to a problem with a proactive solution. Do you see the importance of both approaches?


Being someone who gets the reputation of being reactive is oftentimes attributed to the approach of reacting reactively, even if you are just helping move things along.

I believe the reasoning behind reacting reactively is closely tied to the availability of time and amount of workload. I’m sure many of you would agree with that, it’s a perfectly rational reason. However; I encourage you to think about the positive impact of reacting proactively instead.


When it’s time to react or as some of us say “put out fires”, ask yourself how much time you would save if this fire didn’t have to be put out again or at least so frequently.

The time lost while you wait to mix in that proactive approach equates to less available time and more overwhelming workloads. Just like money, it takes time to make time.

For those of you who believe the solution is more closely tied to making sure you hire the right people, that’s accurate to a limited extent. Making sure you hire people with the right skill set is important but our work is constantly changing and so are our responsibilities. Without being proactive, even the most capable people will feel the pressure building of less available time and an overwhelming workload.


It’s true, being proactive takes more time today, it requires you to slow down right now, and you may even need to put a little work into your own style of communication. But, if you do, the benefits that you’ll receive are exponentially greater. The vast amount of time that you’ll get back will be a drop in the bucket compared to the positive impact on your own wellbeing and the lives of those around you.

Starting strong with a proactive approach is not always an option but finishing strong, that’s a strategic choice.


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