Six Attributes of Proactive Leaders


“We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not our thoughts.” ~ Stephen Covey

The world is changing rapidly and leaders face relentless pressure to adapt and meet these new demands. We are expected to step into the fray and guide the organization through a complex maze of choices and risk. Keeping our calm and thinking clearly in the midst of this storm requires inner strength and an open mind.

Press pause.

The first of Dr. Stephen Covey’s well-known Seven Habits speaks to us about how to live more effectively by exercising our power to choose. For many of us, this is a habit that requires a lifetime of practice. The more natural, human response is to slip into reactive and impulsive behavior. When we learn to be proactive in our leadership we develop a greater capacity to adapt and even thrive in the midst of the chaos.

The Six Attributes of Proactive Leaders

  1. Proactive leaders encourage mindfulness.
    Faced with a challenge, decision or difficult circumstance, proactive leaders mind the gap between stimulus and response. They recognize that the greatest power at their disposal is to choose how they see the situation, (assigning meaning), and how they will respond, (right action). They consciously choose what happens next rather than responding based on the immediate impulse or emotion.
  2. Proactive leaders examine beliefs.
    Proactive leaders are self-aware and recognize their internalized expectations about how things should be. They are sensitive to the habits of thought and programmed responses that interfere with the possibility of a clear perspective. They routinely examine these patterns of behavior in light of their values and invite honest feedback from others to expand the choices available to them. Recognizing this natural bias as a struggle that all people share, they are able to view others with empathy. They help the team bring limiting beliefs into the open and challenge the organization to consider and act on new possibilities.
  3. Proactive leaders engage their imagination.
    Leading from our imagination comes naturally, but during our journey into adulthood many of us were programmed to examine our life and work through a rational lens. The proactive leader approaches organizational challenges with an open mind and a willingness to explore “irrational” possibilities. They encourage people to release their creativity and engage in the practice of not knowing. This results in many alternatives that otherwise might be missed. Data is big, but imagination is limitless.
  4. Proactive leaders empower responsibility.
    Leaders who model personal accountability and transparency encourage this behavior in others. They teach responsibility through the consistency of their actions and words. They refrain from blaming circumstances or the behavior of others for the choices they make and communicate this expectation to the team. They naturally balance accountability with understanding and encourage others towards learning and independence.
  5. Proactive leaders envision possibilities.
    A compelling vision provides the fuel that keeps the organization moving forward in the face of difficulty. Proactive leaders recognize that being part of a great story can release the creative potential and determination of the team. They seek to develop a shared story that guides decisions and gives meaning to the work.
  6. Proactive leaders explore connections.
    Proactive leaders see connections where others see gaps. They look for unexpected opportunities to connect people or teams to solve problems or generate ideas. As these new connections are created, they expand the channels for progress in the organization and harness more of the organization’s potential. People begin to see and appreciate the diversity within the team and how each part of the organization is dependent on the others.

All of these attributes begin with our recognition that we have the power to choose.  We can press the pause button and access our untapped resources, helping those we serve to do the same.

How will you lead proactively today?


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