The word proactive is often tossed around in the workplace with little context. If you’re reading this article, it’s safe to assume you’ve heard it. Perhaps you’ve even been instructed to “be more proactive.” But you may be wondering what it really means to be proactive at work. This is the critical question that never seems to get addressed—and it’s why so many professionals struggle with the concept.
This question is what drove me to write my book, “The Proactive Professional.” I heard so many managers and coaches and trainers advising people to “be proactive,” but never explaining HOW. So, I decided to finally solve the mystery!
Below, you’ll find a few short excerpts from my book which directly explain what it really means to be proactive at work. If you find this useful, consider grabbing a copy of The Proactive Professional on Amazon here.
The Proactive Approach
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 reactive means you allow circumstances to control you, rather than the other way around. Reactive people only take action when it’s absolutely required—when the consequences of inaction are pressing down upon them. It’s like waiting to put your seat belt on until you see an accident about to happen or waiting until the day you retire to start saving for retirement. It just doesn’t work.
Being proactive at work means always thinking about the future, planning and preparing for what lies ahead.
It means anticipating the expected so you can better deal with the unexpected.
It means taking action today to make tomorrow better.
In the workplace, proactive people:
- make better use of resources, including time, energy, and money;
- prevent problems from occurring;
- respond promptly and appropriately to problems that can’t be avoided, thus reducing their negative impact;
- feel a greater sense of control and experiences less stress;
- establish a positive and powerful reputation. (In fact, proactive people are often described as problem solvers, strategic thinkers, self-starters, and even practically clairvoyant!)
This isn’t to say that proactive people won’t still, on occasion, encounter problems. Being proactive doesn’t guarantee a magical life where nothing goes wrong. However, it does reduce the number of problems. And it makes those stubborn, unavoidable problems easier to solve because you deal with them early—before they become disasters. Learning to be proactive at work is a difficult skill to master, but it’s well worth the investment of time and energy. It is both an aptitude and an attitude—a way of doing and a way of thinking, which, when combined, become a way of being. It is truly the thing that differentiates ordinary professionals from exceptional ones.