It Is Your Responsibility to be a Proactive Leader, Not a Reactive One

It Is Your Responsibility to be a Proactive Leader, Not a Reactive One

Our thinking, our behavior and actions are the result of a learning process that – most of time – we aren´t aware of. Parents, teachers, mentors, coworkers and the life itself gave us a constant input and we get used, like the Pavlov´s experiment, to react in some way when we hear a bell. Sometimes this does not have a major importance, other times it does (an instinct reaction can save us from a car accident, for instance) but there are still other times when this can bring us trouble or drag us into undesirable situations.

Things like this happens all the time and “that´s life” you say, but there is any annoying moment you repeatedly experience in your professional or personal life that keep happens frequently? Does this kind of situation make you feel frustrated, angry or de-motivated?


Well that´s the Pavlov´s bell and that´s your reaction according to your own personal program. In those moments, just before you start yelling or becoming The Hulk, you should remember what Stephen R. Covey says on page 70 of his best-selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Because of our unique human endowments, we can write new programs for ourselves totally apart from our instincts and training.”

Let’s have a look at the word “responsibility” for a moment as defined by Merriam-Webster:

re·spon·si·bil·i·ty (noun)

: the state of being the person who caused something to happen

: a duty or task that you are required or expected to do

: something that you should do because it is morally right, legally required, etc.

Now let’s have a look at the way a proactive person approaches the word “responsibility” for a moment:

response-ability (verb)

:the ability to respond to whatever you encounter

:avoiding reaction

What a difference! When we respond, we maintain composure. When we react, we lose composure. Dr. Covey is teaching us a valuable lesson here. One that will change each and every situation we face, in any circumstance. As a leader, isn’t it our responsibility to have an exceptional response-ability? How can it not be!

We are born with the gift of self-awareness, we know the finitude of life, but also the possibility of infinite achievements we could reach in that period of time. One major change is in identifying those moments and then pointing out the “lever” that moves us to act in some way. It´s very easy to say, yet not as simple of a skill to develop in the short-term, as an introspection period is required and that takes precious time. You can begin by being keenly aware of that reaction moment and then exercising your “human endowments” by choosing the way you feel and therefore your response.

The most useful tool in this endeavor is the practicing of empathy towards others, in other words, putting on someone else´s shoes. As a youth, I worked in a fast food chain and in a typical rush hour we usually got a couple of angry-yelling customers because they didn´t get the right soda flavor or the extra cheese layer they ordered. It was problems easily corrected, but the encounter left me stuck with a feeling of frustration (putting me bad mood until the end of the day). I was reacting…

Suddenly, one day I realized that there was more to it that this and asked myself a series of questions:

  • Is this client really mad at me?
  • Was I responsible for that soda?
  • Are they reaching out for help in their own way?
  • Is venting his/her own problems of the day with a random person going to change anything?
  • Are they just taking their frustrations of the day out on me?

Once I started looking at things in a non-personal way I got my “get out of jail free” card. I realized at that moment that I was merely the first person that had allowed them to vent their pent-up feelings. It was not me that they were mad at, but the situation. By taking it out on me, they felt better. Some folks feel so empty inside that they need to put others down to elevate themselves.

I had to make a decision right then and there: I was not going to get upset. NOONE can upset anyone else without that person’s permission. When I am disturbed, the problem lies within me, not them.

As a leader in business, the same rules apply. An upset customer can ruin your day (or week) IF you let them. Proactive leaders have a protocol to follow whenever there is a dispute. Reactive leaders do not. Which one are you?

You´ll hear the bell “chime” every day in several situations. It is your responsibility to follow your instincts, because these are our most valuable resource. Or you can choose your response (through your self-awareness, imagination and independent will) Why? Because you´re a human and that´s your gift, don’t waste it.

Javier Dominguez – Design Trainee

Gould Design, Inc.