Firefighting, or being reactive, is sometimes essential during a crisis, or as part of a short period of change. The problem is when it becomes the norm.

Being reactive means that you are often having to think quickly. Rapid response means you may make errors and not be doing your best work- in a way that you wouldn’t if things were more carefully planned and thought out.

It’s very likely that in working at a pace you will need your staff to quickly move from one action to another, or ask them to deal with constantly changing information. This is ineffective and it can leave them frustrated as nothing gets finished or done properly. The team may start to switch-off, become negative and demotivated.

The quality of your personal performance will fail too, and you are likely to suffer the effects of stress. When you are constantly being reactive, it is hard to see the wood for the trees and you will only be able to focus urgently on symptoms rather than finding the cause. You may not be able to find the time and head-space to move away from being reactive.

Being constantly reactive is stressful. When you deal with one crisis after another, you don’t have time to unwind. You may be able to cope with this pressure in the shorter term, but your staff may be less resilient, and in the longer term it will affect you.

If you find yourself being continually reactive, it is time to step back and take control. The following are some useful tips for becoming more proactive in your leadership.


How do you manage your time?

Time is an essential weapon against reactive management. When you create more time, you give yourself space to plan, and to anticipate problems.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix Organisational tool to determine which tasks and responsibilities are critical, which to delegate and which to ignore completely. Putting things to-do on a list frees your mind. But always question what is worth doing first.

Plan less in your time. This may sound counter productive but if you plan less you have more space to deal with the unexpected and have time to prepare for items on your agenda so that you are not running from one thing to the next in crisis mode. You may find it helpful to schedule a regular block of time as “buffer time” to help deal with unexpected situations and planning time. This way, you can also schedule regular project time, without leaving yourself over-committed when problems do come up.

KEY POINT: Be realistic. Don’t plan to complete a data analysis and SEF in one day – break it down into manageable chunks. Give yourself a clear deadline and then work back in smaller chunks.


What are you doing & how are you doing it?

Dysfunctional processes can trigger or worsen reactive management situations. So, do a thorough review of all of the processes that affect you and your staff. Are there letters written that are very similar and can you create a structure that can be re-used to save time? Are you constantly trawling through your documents to find things? Can you create folders to organise items and delete the things that are clogging up your computer? Look at your own and other people’s working practices, as these may create delays or interruptions for you. If someone is constantly knocking on your door – how can it be prevented? If you find yourself having to give the same message to lots of individuals how can the message be shared more effectively?

Look into the clarity of roles and responsibilities of you and your staff. Are they achievable? Is there too much cross-over? Once people know exactly who to speak to and what to speak about, the whole process of communication becomes much more effective and productive.

KEY POINT: Bear in mind that people may have a limited capacity to deal with change when they’re busy. Don’t make too many process changes at the same time.


Are you and your team able to think proactively and positively?

Your staff will probably feel the pressure that comes with your reactive management. Acknowledge and understand the situation, and remind everyone of what is happening and what you’re doing to resolve it.

Say thank you for specific tasks completed. Build on people’s positive emotions. Research has proven that positive emotions result in more creative and resilient people. The Broaden and Build Theory focuses on developing positive emotions in the workplace.

Create opportunities for your team to discuss problems (without judgment), share information, and support one another, via team meetings or informal get-togethers. Make the most of your people’s knowledge and experience by encouraging them to suggest ideas. Create opportunities for your team to explore and implement ideas that could improve processes, working practices, and end results. It is a great way of engaging staff, sharing workloads and helping people stay solutions focused. Apply the solutions but more importantly reflect and review if they work.

KEY POINT: Schedule in time to identify issues and resolve problems. Identify, acknowledge and challenge negativity and guide people to positivity. If someone says it won’t work, what is their reason for it? How could they overcome that issue? Remember if smiling is catching, positivity is contagious.


Need some perspective?

Take time to reflect and step outside your ‘box’. Kim Krisco (2002) explains this well using the following. A great Chinese saying states, “There are three great mysteries in life. Water to a fish, air to a bird and man to himself.” If a fish could talk do you think it would say, “Gee it’s great to be in the water!” No; the fish assumes the world is water. It is only because we are standing outside the fish tank that we can see the fish swimming in the water. Likewise, it is very difficult to see the paradigm you swim in. Firefighting and being reactive is not uncommon as a business person – it just poses a problem when it happens constantly.


Many business men and women will say that it is just the nature of the beast or it is just the way it is. If you begin to think like that you will never be proactive – or you may do so but very quickly return to your reactive ways. Things are always different with a fresh perspective.


It is imperative you make time for you to challenge your thinking and the way things are done. It is often in reflective moments or times when we just ‘switch off’ that we have the greatest ideas and find the solutions that will make a difference. To be fully proactive you have to allow the time and head-space. Only then can you see what is working well and what isn’t, and begin to see things in a new light.


If this is a challenge for you, invest in creating a reflective space with a coach. We can offer an impartial, confidential service that will enable you to gain perspective on your performance and help you to become more proactive, feel happier and be more successful in your role.


Key Points

Being a reactive leader is detrimental to your staff, and also to your health. Simple steps of planning carefully, being realistic, refining and improving processes will enable a more proactive approach. Longer term, creating a reflective space for yourself and your staff will develop more creative and resilient behaviours.


Allowing you and your staff time to tackle situations and actions in a methodical and efficient way, will lead to a more productive and happy workforce. Creating a positive workplace in which to do this will mean that even if there is a crisis and the need to be reactive occurs, there will be a more considered and successful approach


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