Back in 2010, I wrote an article called How to Be Proactive at Work: My 5 Step System. Much to my surprise, it immediately became the most popular post on my website and remains in that coveted position to this day. Every week, hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of people search “How to be proactive at work” and land on my article.
Over the years, I’ve often marveled at this. Who knew so many people struggled with the concept of being proactive?
It’s now been 7 years since I wrote that original article and in the meantime, I’ve done a ton of research (and a lot of deep thinking) about how to be proactive at work. In fact, I was so inspired, I actually wrote an entire book about it. You can find it here.
I still stand by everything I said in my first article, but I wanted to offer some of my new insights on the topic here. All of these concepts are explored in much greater detail in my book. So if you’re excited about what you see here, there’s more to learn!
What It Means to Be Proactive
Here’s a short excerpt from my book that I think explains the concept of proactivity perfectly:
Put in the simplest of terms, being proactive means doing the things you need to do before you need to do them—like regularly changing the oil in your car instead of waiting for it to start sputtering and spewing smoke. When you’re proactive, you keep your car running smoothly and prevent costly repairs. As a result, you experience greater peace of mind and extend the overall lifespan of your vehicle. The minimal investment you make in regularly getting your oil changed pays huge dividends in the long run. That’s the essence of proactivity.
Being Proactive is Not One Single Skill, it’s a Skill Set
Unfortunately, in the workplace, the word proactive is thrown around so frequently, it almost becomes meaningless. We’re told to be proactive and yet, most people don’t have any concept of what that really entails. They tend to think of it as a single skill. However, being proactive actually requires an entire set of skills.
The Proactive Skillset, as I call it, combines both cognitive skills (the way you think) and behavioral skills (the way you act).
The image below represents the 6 core components of the Proactive Skillset.
As you can see, all of the elements fit together, like the pieces of a puzzle. Each piece is necessary, yet each on its own is not enough. Without all the pieces, the picture is incomplete. In order to be proactive, you must master all 6 skills.
Here’s a very high-level overview of what each skill means:
Big Picture Understanding: The ability to use broad business acumen to synthesize information and create a holistic view of the professional environment.
Situational Awareness: The ability to observe and interpret immediate surroundings to enhance understanding of present circumstances.
Future Focus: The ability to create a clear vision of the future by defining desired results and identifying action items.
Strategic Foresight: The ability to use logic and imagination to anticipate opportunities, obstacles and outcomes.
Intentional Action: The ability to initiate timely, deliberate action to create a desirable future state.
Self-Evaluation: The ability to critically assess your behaviors and results and make appropriate adjustments to enhance future outcomes.
Each component, on its own, may appear quite simple. The challenge lies in combining them all together at the same time. That’s what’s required to be proactive. And that’s why it’s such a difficult thing to master.
To learn more about each of the 6 components in the Proactive Skillset and how to implement them in your life and in the workplace, pick up a copy of my book on Amazon.
Members of the Career Resource Library can also access the following resources.
- Are You Proactive or Reactive? Quiz
- The Proactive Administrative Professional (Webinar Recording)
- Want to Be a Mind Reader? Learn to be Proactive (Article reprint from Executive Secretary Magazine, January 2017)