Proactive or reactive: which type of leader are you?

Proactive or reactive: which type of leader are you?

What enables a person to be an effective leader? Leadership has different facets and being able to identify your own leadership style as either proactive or reactive and having the ability to switch between the two can make a huge difference to your success. So, what are the different styles and which do you most identify with?

A reactive leader can handle pressure that comes their way in real time

Reactive leaders take responsibility and solve problems on their own. Other characteristics include quick, logical thought processes and dealing with tasks in the here and now. Often known as “firefighting”, there is very little long-term planning or forward thinking involved in responding reactively. While reactive leaders find it easy to make snap decisions, this style does not lend itself to analysing what might be required in the future. Rather than being prepared for future challenges, reactive leaders may miss out on opportunities because they have not anticipated change. A reactive leader and workforce is exactly what companies need to ensure that the business can survive short-term unexpected issues.

Proactive leadership styles are focused on the future

Being a proactive leader requires a different mindset and skills, figuring out what needs to be done and how to achieve it without knowing exactly what the future holds. In a business context this means building a sound knowledge of your market and competitors and learning how to anticipate change, not just waiting for it to happen.

There are many advantages to adopting a proactive leadership approach. These include more accurate and effective strategies and projections, ensuring the business is relevant to customers, improved cost and resource efficiency, aligning daily decisions with long-term objectives, and getting ahead of the competition. The downside of a proactive approach is that focusing on the future can mean you are not fully focused on the task at hand, which could have serious consequences, particularly during difficult times.

Which type of leader is best for business?

In their recent study of one million global leaders, Anderson and Adams found that most struggle to deal with the complex challenges they face. This makes development – both self-development and developing other leaders and future leaders at scale – a business imperative. In their research, they identified 18 key creative competencies which highly correlated to measures of leadership effectiveness and business performance, falling into five categories:

  1. Achieving – —the ability to plan and get results
  2. Systems awareness – the capability to think systemically and design organisational systems for higher performance
  3. Authenticity – the willingness to act with integrity, speaking the truth even when it is risky
  4. Self-awareness – recognising your own strengths and weaknesses and taking ownership of your decisions
  5. Relating – the capability to build teams, collaborate with, and develop people

While reactive leaders can and do get results, Anderson and Adams believe they do so at the expense of those who report to and work with them. Often they focus on achieving immediate and high levels of success, neglecting other aspects of their role – such as team development, strategy or forecasting – and ultimately this limits scale.  A strong leader needs to balance reactive and proactive skillsets to be able to act in the short term, and plan for the future.

If you want to enhance your leadership style and futureproof your skill set, the 100% online Management and Leadership Masters programmes from the University of York provide the fundamental concepts, theories and practical applications of innovation, finance, and international business – vital for professional adaptability and employability across industries, functions and roles.

With all course content available online you can access it and study at any time, in any place. Six start dates throughout the year mean you can tailor the course to your own timescales. There’s also the option to pay as you learn, and you may even be entitled to a UK government-backed postgraduate loan, covering the costs of the course.

Find out more and begin your application.