The world of self-help and career advice is filled with flimsy terms and concepts that don’t mean much. However, the idea of being proactive in the workplace is far from fake.
A proactive attitude, paired with the ability to follow through, is arguably the best trait an employee can have, no matter the field or the function of their role.
This is easier said than done, obviously, since it’s not always clear how to be proactive, or what this actually means in a day-to-day context.
To make sense of it all, we asked successful entrepreneurs how to be proactive in the workplace from the perspective of execs and managers. They offered some very valuable insights.
We also discussed behaviors that go against the proactive state of mind and how to learn from mistakes in an efficient way. Let’s hear what they had to say.
What it Means to Be Proactive
Why not start with a good old-fashioned definition of “proactive” before we get to some more in-depth concepts and applications?
“Everyone will define this differently, but I see proactive behaviors as those that are done without necessarily being told, and helping to solve problems before they arise,” said Kaspar Povilanskas, Co-Founder and CEO of Nowadays. “The ability to anticipate needs of team members or customers is crucial in business, and being proactive is the next step, acting in a way that is responsible, efficient, and focused on a specific outcome.”
A definition is just the beginning. To better understand the concept of being proactive, it helps to recognize the difference between the two circles of concern and influence, as discussed in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
“The circle of concern covers all the issues we are concerned about, whereas the circle of influence, which usually lies within the circle of concern, covers all the issues we can actually do something about. For proactive people, the circle of influence is much bigger,” said Eva Christodoulou, Head of Solutions and Services at Leaderonomics. “As they focus their efforts on the issues they can actually do something about, their energy is positive, enlarging, and magnifying, allowing them, through their optimism and bright attitude, to tackle even more issues than they originally thought would be within their control.”
Don’t take our word for it: discover your own definition of what it means to be proactive and why it matters for your career performance and satisfaction.
Why Be Proactive in the Workplace?
The proactive mindset is good to have no matter what you pursue in life, but it’s especially useful in the workplace with so many moving parts.
The simple reason to be proactive in the workplace is that it will pay off in countless ways.
“Bosses, colleagues, and customers all like and appreciate employees who are proactive,” said ThriveYard Founder Duncan Muguku. “Your level of self-confidence, happiness, and satisfaction at work increases when you are on top of things and are handling your tasks in a timely, deliberate, and efficient manner. Being proactive means anticipating what might happen, planning ahead, preparing in advance, and acting ahead instead of simply reacting to circumstances. Being proactive builds your personal brand and reputation at work. People can count on you for your reliability.”
Not sold on the importance of being proactive? Just think about scenarios when you have taken the opposite route and avoided responsibility. It never ends well for anyone.
“We can all relate to those times when we procrastinate, made excuses, or at worst, put blame on others who had nothing to do with the problem,” said Sheila Chaiban, CEO of One Ocean Beauty. “Not only does it lead to unnecessary conflict between people at work, but it can cause anxiety and stress that can damage your self-confidence and ability to perform. There are zero downsides to being more proactive and committing to a disciplined style of work.”
Once you realize what a powerful mental shift this can be, you’ll want to jump right in and not look back.
5 Tips to Be Proactive at Work Right Now
Even if your managers and coworkers are happy with your performance at work right now, you know there’s room to improve by being more proactive.
Here are five practical tips to apply right now and step it up in the workplace.
1. Take Initiative on Tasks
The almighty to-do list is always looming overhead, and it can get the best of us if we aren’t proactively chipping away. Be on top of daily tasks and get ahead when you can.
“Your expectation for yourself should be to do more than the bare minimum at work each day,” said Fred Gerantabee, Chief Experience Officer at Foster Grant. “Set a rule to accomplish a bit more than yesterday, and you’ll find ways to outperform the past version of yourself. You will quickly realize that you are capable of so much more than you thought.”
2. Prompt Responses Always
In a world of constant connectivity, there’s no reason to be more than 24 hours behind on a response to an email or request. Act fast and be prompt with all responses.
“Every time you respond quickly to an email or message, you build that reputation and trust with people around you,” said Nicholas Vasiliou, CEO of BioHealth Nutrition. “This is an invaluable asset in the modern workplace, where things need to happen at a lightning-fast pace. If you have the opportunity to respond, don’t shrug it off for later. Do it ASAP and be done with it.”
3. Updates, Memos, and More
Overcommunication is impossible for the proactive person in the workplace. They are eager to send updates and memos to team members, even when not requested or necessary.
“A tight-knit team needs to be in the loop on all things related to the current project, so being transparent is part of the deal when being proactive,” said Chris Hetherington, Founder and CEO of Peels. “Send out more emails to your team members giving them updates, or ask for input when you need second opinions. This leads to others putting more trust in you and being more proactive themselves.”
4. Improve Team Dynamics
It may not seem obvious, but there is likely someone on your team who needs a helping hand every so often. Reach out and see if you can give them support when they’re struggling.
“If you’re really committed to being proactive, be prepared to step it up and help out team members when they find themselves in challenging situations,” said Mike Clare, CEO at Mood Health. “You will become the person that others count on, and that’s a powerful position. On the other hand, be careful with over-extending yourself or taking on more than you can handle.”
5. Think Three Steps Ahead
There’s bound to be a project or event on the horizon that needs some extra work or attention. Think ahead and consider what can be done now instead of later.
“Proactive employees are laser-focused on the high-priority tasks, but they also have a keen sense of what’s coming up and what needs to be done in advance,” said Matt Seaburn, Partner and President of Rent A Wheel. “It makes life easier for everyone when you have a head-start on future tasks instead of waiting until the last minute.”
Become More Proactive Moving Forward
We’ve mapped out some quick tips for instant application in your daily work routine, but how can you be even more proactive as your career advances?
As many entrepreneurs will gladly admit, there needs to be a sense of self-promotion and direction within a company, or the desire to start something brand new.
“Rather than focusing on how you can be proactive for your boss or team members, try to be more forward-thinking about your own career path and the long-term trajectory you see for yourself,” said Boye Fajinmi, Co-Founder & President at TheFutureParty. “Look at ways to rise in the ranks at your current company or start brainstorming ideas for a personal brand or startup. This is really the ultimate example of being proactive in business, and how all great companies begin.”
It also helps to flex that proactive muscle in other areas of the brain, whether it’s related to our habits for health, wealth, relationships, or anything else that matters to us.
“Don’t just limit yourself to being proactive at work or school, because the same principles apply to every aspect of life,” said Fred Gerantabee, Chief Experience Officer at Readers.com. “You’ll find that proactivity is a way of life, and it alleviates so much stress.”
What is your plan to be more proactive right now? Map out a few tasks that need to be done, and don’t take your eye off the objective until they’re completed.
“The power of a task list can’t be overstated,” said Katie Lyon, Co-Founder of Allegiance Flag Supply. “Get comfortable making these lists for the short and long terms. You will build that sense of accomplishment and trust in yourself, which allows you to constantly level up and tackle bigger challenges.”
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were all more proactive in work and life? Take this chance to commit to a proactive way of living in your career and beyond.
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