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  15 Ways to Lead Proactively

   15 Ways to Lead Proactively

Shawn StrattonIn the TEDx talk that I gave, I highlighted the power of teamwork during a recounted expedition that I led deep in the Indian Himalayas. On day 24 of the mountain expedition, a client fell down one of the slopes and suffered an open fracture of his lower leg. For 19 hours while we waited for help to arrive, we fought to save the patient’s leg.

I firmly believe that our team thrived during this period because of the proactive leadership our team of instructors displayed on the expedition up to that point. I was brought to tears with pride for our team once help finally did arrive in the form of a massive Indian military rescue helicopter. We had selflessly pulled together to manage the intense situation in a hostile environment. 

NOLS India, Shawn Stratton You can use these types of situations as a learning experience. While carrying out your duties as a leader, there are a few questions to ask about your performance to determine whether you spend most of your time in a reactive or proactive role.

As a leader do you…

  • Find yourself putting out fires most of the day?
  • Dread Mondays because you have no idea what mess you are about to walk in on?
  • Feel like you are losing the respect of your team members?
  • Get behind in writing or conducting performance reviews?
  • Only think about doing a team building event when your team is not working well together or because you just haven’t done one in a while?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you probably spend more leadership time in a reactionary mode than you should. Leaders can end up dealing with either a major crisis or a thousand tiny crises that affect business on a daily basis such as late shipments, unhappy customers, missed deadlines or dysfunctional teams. In order to manage these situations in the most effective way, you should avoid both reactive thinking and reactive actions in the day-to-day management of your team.

You need to lead proactively to equip your team members with the resiliency, drive, and determination to manage crises. Proactive behavior refers to behavior that is anticipatory, self-initiated and often change-oriented. This means that you are able to anticipate needs in the future and to act on them today, as opposed to waiting and then reacting when they occur. It is about controlling the situation rather than being controlled by it.

“Quality leaders are proactive leaders!”

As a leader, there will always be crises to manage, but as a proactive leader, many of these crises will be mere bumps in the road on your team’s journey.

In order to become a proactive leader, you need to:

  1. Prepare for Change: You need to effectively anticipate changes or crisis situations to lead effectively and create plans to meet the challenges that change often brings.
  1. Meet One-On-One with Team Members Regularly: Everyone has different needs and desires. The best way to gauge the mood and anticipate brewing issues within the team is through regular individual meetings with your team members.
  1. Execute Regular Team Building Events: Get the team together on at least a quarterly basis for some sort of activity in which the focus is team development. The more often you hold the events, the shorter and simpler they can be.
  1. Express Appropriate Appreciation: Understand your team members’ Appreciation Language and show appreciation according to their preferences.
  1. Set Clear Expectations: Each individual needs to clearly know what is expected of them at all times.
  1. Create and Revisit a Team Charter: The creation of a charter is facilitated by the leader but has input from the whole team. The charter is posted for everyone to see and is revisited at least once a quarter. For an example check out my Team Recipe example.
  1. Weed Their Garden Early: As the saying goes, “slow to hire, quick to fire.” Remove destructive team members as soon as it becomes clear that they are having a detrimental effect on the team.
  1. Be Inspiring: Leading by example is to continually role model behaviors beyond what you expect from others.
  1. Keep Small Problems Small: You Do not avoid or let unproductive conflicts fester. You have a system for managing conflict that adequately addresses the issue, develops a plan and allows the team to move forward.
  1. Embrace Feedback: You Do not be afraid to change your behaviors and leadership style to be a more effective leader for your team.
  1. Conduct Stay Interviews: One-on-one interviews with a manager and a valued employee. Its aim, quite simply, is to learn what makes employees want to keep working for you.
  1. Encourage Professional Development: Support and suggest professional development opportunities for your team members that will enhance your skills.
  1. Take Responsibility: When things don’t work out as planned, you take responsibility for both your actions and those of your team. You seek advice and help when required.
  1. Get Personal: You Get to know your team members on a personal level. This can include their personal history, things in common, their strengths and their passions.
  1. Never Stop Learning: Proactive leaders are continually seeking refinement in their own leadership skills through personal and professional development opportunities.

The best leaders spend their time thinking about how to manage their team and increase their team’s performance. Once they reach a high level of performance, they don’t coast. They keep close contact with team members, are constantly monitoring any bumps in the road and present opportunities to help them to continue to excel.

Action: In the next seven days incorporate one trait of a proactive leader into your leadership style that you are not currently doing.   


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Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, endurance athlete, and a dad.

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