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Developing Leaders to Be Less Reactive and More Proactive

Developing Leaders to Be Less Reactive and More Proactive

A lot of leadership development activity is focused on improving knowledge and skills. But while this approach is useful as a base platform, we need to go much further if we want to develop more sophisticated abilities in areas like judgment, decision making and perhaps most critically knowing how a leader should best use his or her own initiative intelligently and in ways that are less reactive and more proactive. In other words, we need to be more concerned with developing a leader’s mental capacity or to expand their awareness, consciousness, and ability to understand and manage complexity. 

It can be argued that this more mindset centered and personal leadership development journey occurs in progressive steps and in their book “Mastering Leadership” authors Robert Anderson and William Adams describe five discreet stages. These are:

  1. Egocentric
  2. Reactive
  3. Creative
  4. Integrative
  5. Unitive 

Let’s look briefly at each of these stages:

A leader in the first stage of the Anderson and Adams model tends to believe that autocratic control (or what another author, Douglas McGregor called a theory X approach) often works the best in as much as a leader is most successful by being confident and command centered and largely self interested or egocentric. A leader may only stay at this stage for a short period, although not necessarily, and start to realize slowly perhaps, that this approach is a little one-dimensional.

At the second stage a leader is more team member centric but is nonetheless still the decision maker when reacting to circumstances that arise. This means that they may actually behave as benevolent patriarchs/matriarchs to the team with all ultimate power to determine actions and outcomes residing in the leader. 

To migrate from a largely reactive and single decision maker role to a more open and shared one means that a leader has to transition their mindset from reactive to creative. This mindset is more attuned to the need for business cultures that are flatter, leaner, more agile and more engaged and want more distributed decision-making according to the task or project.  This stage, however, is characterized by leaders still making final decisions but with a lot more input and recommendations from team members. 

Building on the creative stage, the integrative stage leader delegates decision-making much more often, allowing team members to make decisions with him or her and to make some decisions his or her own. In general Anderson and Adams say that leaders are more authentic at this stage and begin to ask new questions such as Who am I? What do I really want? What do I care most about? What do I stand for? How can I make my life and my leadership a creative expression of what matters most? 

The final stage of Unitive leadership is the highest level of personal awareness for any leader where considerable thoughts and reflection is taking place and thereby very little egocentric or reactive behavior to changing circumstances. Leaders at this level function as global visionaries and take a big picture and team centric view.

So how does any leader individually progress through these stages? Anderson and Adams have 6 core skills that they say need to be developed. These are:

  1. Discern your purpose.
  2. Distill your vision.
  3. Know your doubts and fears.
  4. Engage in authentic, courageous dialog.
  5. Develop intuition.
  6. Think systematically.

All critical skills and each one needs considerable time and effort to master – but perhaps that is the subject of another article.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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