The opposite of reactive is not proactive

Many leaders spend their time reacting.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Reacting to changes and everyday events is here to stay and will not disappear soon.

However, many leaders are reactive most, if not all, of the time. It has almost become second nature.

Reactive leaders have “firefighting” skills and mentality.

They are stimulated by the constant changes and events in their environment and will not hesitate to pull up their sleeves and work.

The problem with excessive reactive behaviour is that it becomes the norm. It defines what good and successful leadership look like. It becomes contagious and a role model for emerging and new leaders to embrace.

Reactive leadership breeds certain styles of thinking and behaviour that can undermine the organisation’s scalability. Such as:

  • Short term thinking
  • Burnout
  • Hero culture – reliance on key figures
  • Lack of empowerment
  • Decision-making paralysis
  • Inconsistent actions and decisions
  • Rework
  • Lack of alignment

When reactive leadership becomes the norm

It is easy to react! Will deal with it when it happens! Will cross that bridge when we get there!

Relying on being reactive keeps us on our toes all the time and does not allow for longer-term thinking.

Reactive leadership is about short term thinking, dealing with a situation in isolation, more of a Band-Aid than a root cause solution. Which then causes decision fatigue and undermines decision-making mechanisms in the organisation, rendering them useless.

Sometimes, reactive leadership is praised in some organisations by calling it “the speed of decision making”—making reactive leadership a good thing to have and carry as a badge of honour.

Excessive reactive leadership breeds lazy thinking

Reactive leadership is bad for long term plans, building the future and creating a scalable practice/business or organisation.

The solution

Easy. Be proactive! I can stop writing now.

I wish it were that easy.

The opposite of reactive is not proactive … There is a crucial step that gives birth to being proactive…

In this Leadership series of “The Things We Forgot”, I want to shed light on …

The power of future-focused decision Making as the bridge between reactive and proactive leadership

Future Focused Decision Making

By being reactive, you decide on the spot or in a short period. The decision resolves the here and now but lacks the depth, the process, and the consideration of other crucial aspects

We make decisions, so we do not have to make them frequently (unless the situation has changed). And that is what happens when we are reactive. We tend to make the decision repeatedly because:

  • The decision addresses a situation at a point in time
  • The decision is a short-term solution to get things going
  • The thinking process is not clear to others
  • Not taking into account critical aspects and other important data points
  • The decision is based on the decision-maker situation at the time (emotionally, mentally, and physically)
  • The decision is subjective.

Microscope, a telescope, and something in between

We need to think more about the future to encourage proactive leadership behaviour and tip the scales in that direction.

We need to find the right balance between reactive and proactive.

The balance between the “now, at the moment, speedy” decisions and the “considerate, long term, big picture” decisions.

The science is to know how to make those decisions. The art is in knowing what decisions to make and when to make them

A thousand microscopes will not give you the big picture like a telescope. And using a telescope to its maximum zoom levels will not show you the same picture as a microscope. So to have balance, we need something in between that allows us to see both the big picture and the details. This balance allows the organisation to make critical, timely decisions to help focus and prioritise the work.

In the context of transformation, critical strategic programs and organisational scalability and growth, some key decisions need to be made before work starts. But unfortunately, in many failed (or failing) programs, I found that critical decisions were not made at all or made when it was too late.

I am referring to those decisions that focus on:

  • Defining the north star and the why
  • Creating alignment and engagement
  • Defining prioritisation criteria
  • Creating a focus lens
  • Building lean structures that serve the program and accelerate it
  • Developing solid foundations that enable empowerment and encourage collaboration.

Here is a list of sample questions that help drive those kinds of decisions:

  • Why do we want to do this?
  • Why now? Why us?
  • What does success look like?
  • Do we have clear roles and responsibilities?
  • How do we create accountability and empowerment?
  • How to reduce decision-making bottlenecks?
  • What are our guiding principles?
  • What is the outcome we want to achieve?
  • Who matters in this? And how do we ensure that their voice is heard?
  • Who needs to be part of this change/initiative/program?
  • Who needs to be aware of this and be on board?
  • What are the things we are not going to do?

Future-focused decisions encourage us to think about the future while learning from the past and considering the present situation. It aims to protect us from inconsistency, rework, decision fatigue, lack of alignment, lack of focus and inability to prioritise

Good future-focused decisions that enable proactive leadership

These are the decisions that:

  • Provide the basis for what good looks like and clearly define success
  • Clearly clarify the Why and the What
  • Consider the end-to-end process, change and experience
  • Create effective and lean mechanisms in place that ensure that decision making is timely and integrated
  • Reduce the reliance on single viewpoints or key figures
  • Encourage collaboration and positive forward motion in the environment

Powerful questions to consider

  • What decisions are needed to make this program a success?
  • What is success?
  • What am I saying No to when I say Yes?
  • What mechanisms are in place to review the validity and integrity of the decisions made?
  • What good decision-making practices are in place and embedded?
  • If I leave the organisation tomorrow, who can I delegate this to? And how to best empower this person/entity to make the best decision?
  • What does a bad decision look like?
  • If I bet my own money and house on this decision, would I still go with it??
  • What decisions have not been made? Why? Why not?


We need to bring back a healthy balance between reactive and proactive leadership. This can be enabled by encouraging a future-focused decision-making process that is integrated, anchored in a true north star and works to serve the organisation and its people to move forward with less noise and distractions.

When you are ready, here are a few ways we can work together:

1) Join my Emergence group mentoring and training program for emerging transformation leaders.

2) Work with me on a one-to-one basis in my Elevate Next Level Leadership program. This program is designed for transformation and change leaders to achieve delivery mastery, have a seat at the table, avoid expensive mistakes and set you up for success in your role and the next.

3) Work with me in the Transformation Career Accelerator program. This program helps leaders get to their next level leadership role faster and better, saving years of trial and error and waiting for the right opportunity to come by.

4) For Organisations & Teams: Do you want to build a high performing transformation team, increase the impact of your change or transformation practice, or use an expert advisor to help design and architect your transformation program to avoid blind spots, hidden derailers, lack of integration, or failure to adopt the change? Reach out for a private conversation.

Use the link below to book a quick 15 minutes conversation

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