Proactive vs. Reactive

“There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, and those who do not see”.

Bucharest recently made it to the 3rd position in a top of the most crowded cities in the world, according to a CNN article. It is officially the worst city in terms of traffic in Europe. A nightmare. Reasons vary, from corruption to lack of a development strategy to lack of vision. It is truly impressive to be the third in the world… a really bad image for Romania’s capital city… and bad advertising for any tourist who might want to visit a country that is otherwise beautiful and welcoming. Almost each tourist coming to this country must pass through the main airport of the capital, and then most likely spend one or more nights in a hotel in Bucharest. What you show to the world at first sight is most likely to be the first impression. And it’s not going to be a good one, as that hypothetical tourist will need to find his/her way through the crowded capital city.

There are several reasons for this situation, indolence being the main reason if you ask me. But I shall focus on a particular problem in this article – the lack of vision and, consequently, the lack of preventive action.

Many leadership articles and books focus on the duality between being proactive and reactive. I doubt people understand the difference; or they understand it but they fail to integrate it in their being. It’s one thing to know stuff and is a different thing to use that stuff, or make it part of yourself.

Being proactive means to take the necessary steps to create something or to fix something, out of your own initiative, fueled by your vision. If I see that something needs to be done, I do it, before someone else tells me to do it, or before it’s getting too late. This can happen only if I’m able to connect the dots in my head and anticipate the outcome of a given situation. In other words, this means I have the ability to be imaginative and see how stuff develops in the future. Same goes for those things who need to be fixed/cured. As you can see, being proactive involves a chain of abilities: perception – vision – thinking – creativity – initiative – execution. You can read again the Leonardo da Vinci quote at the beginning of the article. You will see that people are not equal when it comes to pro-action. In fact, only a small percent is able to be proactive, to see. This is not a reason to panic; some people are born to execute what the visionaries see in the future. Unfortunately, this happens only in an ideal imaginary world.

One of the reasons this world is so wrong, is that visionaries switched places with the blind greedy people. Can’t you see that the United States is becoming radicalized and this can lead to war? Can’t you see that the intolerance is on the rise? Can’t you see that almost nothing has been done by the European leaders to integrate migrants? Can’t you see that there isn’t a strategy to tackle the environmental change? Can’t you see that we’re beginning to lack specialists because everyone is getting more and more shallow, superficial? Of course you see. Well, some see if they are shown… But there is a huge majority who can’t see, who is and will be prone to indoctrination. This is the population who will vote to begin a war, who will require jobs without paying attention to climate change, who will always be in denial about obvious things. This population will only react when “the dirt will hit the fan”.

Being reactive is the opposite of a proactive lifestyle. It’s waiting until it’s too late or being in denial of the severity of a situation until that situation “begins to ache”, or being unable to see the negative outcome. It’s failing to see the cause-effect logical process. I’ve seen this many times in hospitals: waiting until it’s too late, or waiting excessively and causing more distress to the patient. Waiting can be also part of a strategy (the “wait and see” strategy), but most of the time is pure incompetence or indolence.

Refusing to be proactive is often a good business strategy, for the wrong reasons in my opinion. For instance, you’re the boss and you see an employee who shows signs of distress. As a true leader, after some time you invite that employee to a private discussion, aiming at evaluating the situation, knowing more about the problem that you spotted, coaching the employee if needed (as a leader you must do this) and taking the necessary steps to avoid losing that employee to the concurrence. Being proactive requires you to take active steps towards a problem that seems to build up slowly, not wait until it’s too late and the employee becomes uncontrollable, perhaps causing surprises. You must jump to rescue a situation before it’s too late. That means to be a leader in the 21st century. However, you may employ a different strategy: ignore. If the employee depends on the money you give to him/her, the employee will struggle in distress, will show more or less explicit signs that he/she is not happy with the job or the situation, but you can simply ignore, overlook, all this behavioral display. The employee will never dare confronting you on salary issues or quality of the job, and you won’t have a problem. This is modern slavery and is frequent when there is a boss rather than a leader in charge. Rarely, that employee can come one day and put its resignation paper on your table. At that point, if you are a leader, you will acknowledge your inability to foresee the outcome and begin negotiations in order to convince the employee to stay. But if you are a boss, you will initially try to trick the departing employee, either by menacing him/her, or by giving more money, or by making false promises about the future. Therefore, you will react. Following the failure of negotiations, you will immediately call the human resources so as to find a new employee. You will therefore react for the second time. You didn’t (want) to see the resignation coming and you reacted at the sudden news of the employee’s departure, and you reacted as well when seeking suddenly a new employee. I’ve seen the reactive strategy too many times. I am yet to see someone proactive.

In the medical environment (and perhaps in corporations), some smart people saw that not everyone is a visionary, and created ways to lead while being blind. This means that every human being, blind or not, can lead, using… protocols. The protocols have been made by visionaries, by people who were able to foresee the outcomes. This way, anyone can be a boss/leader. And so, the seers can follow their common-sense and the blinds can follow the protocols, and everyone is happy. Being a seer and not following protocols or not knowing them is still a good thing, because you can still remain proactive. But being unable to see and not following protocols… is a crime.

Prior to writing this article, I was walking along one of the main roads in Cluj (my current city). It was the rush hour. I saw more than one kilometer of cars waiting in line as the traffic is too big and the streets of Cluj are too small. And this gave to me the idea for this article. There aren’t any proactive moves to ease the traffic. Is it going to be worse if nobody does anything? Of course, yes! It’s cause and effect!

 
 
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