While the most effective leaders are almost always proactive, the vast majority of organizational leaders I have met in the past three decades of working with organizations, have behaved predominantly in a reactive manner. Dictionary.com defines “proactive” as: “serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an unexpected occurrence or situation, esp. a negative or difficult one; anticipatory.” On the other hand, when we refer to reactive leaders, we normally are referring to leaders who have their actions determined by situations, therefore generally acting after the fact.
One of the major causes of organizational leaders reacting reactively instead of proactively is that a large percentage of leaders are fearful. Unfortunately, many leaders are ill-prepared for leadership, and fear making the wrong decision, so procrastinate when action would be the recommended course. This can either result in taking incorrect and indecisive action, or procrastinating and not taking needed action. Many of the most effective organizational leaders become extremely frustrated dealing with reactive co-leaders.
Organizations must do strategic planning, on an ongoing basis. There is also, in most cases, the necessity for taking greater financial control of their organization. Another area that proactive leaders realize they need to emphasize includes organizational budgeting, and the importance of effectively using zero-based budgeting. Another danger to many organizations is that too many leaders do not recognize the importance of taking true fiscal restraints and controls. Most organizations should severely limit the amount of controls that staffs have over organizational funds, including limiting the size of checks a staff member can sign. It is also recommended that organizations create a maximum sum where only one signatory is required for a check, and that over that amount, more than one signer be required.
Leaders must recognize that financial obligations and methods for organizations, and what is appropriate courses of actions, are different for organizations than for individuals. Much has been written about the “prudent man rule,” requiring leaders to act in a fiduciary manner as the most prudent (or careful) individual would. While certain financial risks might be acceptable for individual portfolios and investments, much more conservative restrictions must be placed on organizational funds.
One of the most recurrent issues that organizations face are staff-related issues. Proactive leaders attempt to anticipate what might happen, while reactive leaders often adopt a wait-and-see, don’t rock-the-boat attitude. Organizations that have continuous periods of reactive leaders almost always end up with issues, and sometimes, even crises, that are avoidable and regrettable.