WHEN I was still a trainer, I noticed that two managers in our department had different leadership styles. One was easily flustered and would only address issues as they came. Even if there was a clear list of what needs to be done, she always got sidetracked by an emergency. In the end, her team was always asking her questions on what to do next. On the other hand, the other manager was always so organized and maintained her composure. Her team had answers for every question, everyone knew what they were doing, and the team worked well with each other. I discovered later that they exemplified a reactive leader and a proactive one.
The first manager is a reactive leader. Such leaders have no process in place to address recurring issues, or if they do have a process, it is not enforced consistently. They have to be hands-on all the time and provide direction every single step of the way. They have poor communication skills and when something goes wrong, no one in the team takes accountability. On the other hand, the second manager is a proactive leader. Their work processes are clear and known by all team members. They understand the need to communicate especially during turbulent times, and they lead by rallying their team to succeed. When their team fails, they take responsibility for their team’s actions and learn from the experience.
Proactive leaders anticipate problems and take steps to mitigate risks. They understand that they are responsible for a team that depends on them for direction and protection, so they take the time to plan ahead so that their team reaches a common goal. Because of this, their team can focus their attention on developing creative solutions for challenges they encounter. The proactive leader then becomes solutions-based in approaching issues, and they become faster in assessing and responding to changes in their environment. But how does one become a proactive leader?
The first thing a proactive leader does is make their team understand and agree on a common vision by planning ahead. The team needs to understand where everyone is going so that they can find ways to support the leader’s vision. Your goal for the team should be so clear that they can articulate it on their own, and they can see how their work contributes to the achievement of the team’s overall goals. If they know where their efforts go, it becomes easier for them to be on board.
Of course, it takes time to plan but you need to sit down with your team so that everybody is aligned in terms of expectations. It is easier for team members to own a leader’s vision if they were involved in its development. So, provide opportunities for team members to give their feedback.
But as the leader, you need to develop the foresight on what is happening in your industry, and to decide when to take calculated risks.
A proactive leader also involves their team not only in planning the team’s goals but also in the decision-making process. A leader can do this by offering alternative solutions and letting the team decide which course of action is best. These moments are crucial in teaching your team to develop critical-thinking skills. Even if you know the best course of action, by providing alternatives you help your team understand why certain decisions are the best ones. This trains your team how to process new challenges and issues so that they can arrive at the best course of action.
If you want to keep abreast of what is happening to different projects in your team without micromanaging, use project management tools or a self-made project tracker dashboard so that you can monitor assigned tasks. These tools help you look at what projects are at risk, and what might be delayed. This helps you reassign resources to where they are most needed and ensure workloads are balanced and equitably distributed.
To help your team cope with new demands or environments, identify what your team needs to develop to adapt. This means knowing your team’s motivations and their professional development needs so you can find opportunities for them to grow. When your team is properly trained and equipped to do their work, you are in a better position to trust them to do the work that you assign them. It also helps them have the confidence to face new challenges by leveraging what they already know.
You also need to know how your reactions and comments affect your team. Remember that your team looks up to you for guidance and strength. If you quiver in the face of new challenges, chances are that your team will feel worse. Your team will depend on you to lead them in the right direction. You have to trust in your team’s abilities to deliver and do well. On the other hand, your team expects you to provide direction and guidance.
To reduce issues from escalating into crises, understand your team’s dynamics and find ways to diffuse the tension when team members do not seem to get along. Provide venues where your team can develop good working relations with each other, and provide them opportunities to interact in a non-work environment so they can get to know each other better. This will also provide you insights on why certain teammates do not get along so you can find ways for them to work professionally. Remember that you influence the kind of work environment your team will have to operate in.
All in all, to be a proactive leader means always thinking about what is best for your team. It means always being a step ahead so you can clear roadblocks to your team’s success. It means providing direction to your team in the midst of uncertainty. It means putting your team’s interest above your own.
To be a proactive leader, your team needs to trust and know that you will lead them until everyone reaches the goal.