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Appendix Three: Proactive Managers


Proactive managers are cautious without becoming paralyzed by the potential downside of action. They pursue their goals continuously but incrementally, testing/evaluating progress toward the goal. This approach assures movement toward the goal without exposing the organization to unnecessary and avoidable jeopardy. They do not play it safe but do play it cautiously.

Proactive managers focus most of their time and energy on organizational stability and goal attainment. They minimize time and energy absorbed by worrying about unlikely contingencies and maintaining the status quo.

Proactive managers make decisions and take action thoughtfully but quickly. They do not delay or postpone decisions or actions, try to avoid or defer doing what needs done, and they do not hesitate or proceed reluctantly. Their actions and reactions are not impulsive or ill-considered. They are, instead, decisive and timely.

Proactive managers do not shirk or avoid responsibility and have little tolerance for people who do. They are committed to the welfare of the organization and to its mission.

From the perspective of personal responsibility, they do everything they have agreed to do to the best of their ability and accept additional responsibility to the extent necessary to assure the organization’s success.

They may decide they are unwilling or unable to continue accepting the responsibilities they have agreed to accept. In that event, they will be up-front about their decision and in the meantime, they will do what they have agreed to do at the highest level of which they are capable. The organization always gets their best effort.

Proactive managers take calculated risks and carefully considered chances with hard resources such as capital and soft resources such as political support. Before taking such risks, they first determine the cost to the organization of paying the hard or soft resource bill if their action is unsuccessful. Next, they determine the extent of total organizational resource reduction that could result from having to pay that bill. How much worse off would the organization be if the bill is paid? That is “X” or the downside cost of action.

“Y” or the upside benefit of action is similarly calculated in terms of the level of increase in total hard and soft resources if the action is successful. Action then gambles “X” against the possibility of “Y.”

Two additional factors are then considered: the likelihood of getting “y,” and how much the value of “Y” exceeds the value of “X.” They do not gamble a lot to only gain a little.

For the proactive manager, then, taking calculated risks with organizational resources means the potential value of attaining “Y” justifies the risk of having to pay the downside bill (X). In either event, contingency plans are in place to manage the outcome.

Proactive managers have a high tolerance for and acceptance of differing personalities, traits and characteristics, personal styles, individual values and beliefs, and for the idiosyncrasies of people. Similarly, they easily manage fluctuations in people’s moods, points of view, and interests. Alternatively, they have little tolerance for sub-standard work, less than complete attention to the task at hand, or lackluster performance. They always give their best effort and expect others to do the same.

Proactive managers expect others to do things correctly, to give everything they do their best effort, to succeed. They are surprised when people make mistakes, give things less than their best effort, do not succeed.

Since they expect success, they assume personal responsibility for mistakes of others, lackluster effort, non-success. Their first take on the situation is they haven’t been smart enough or skilled enough to effectuate the right outcome. They then work with the person to identify the deficiencies, to modify their (the proactive manager’s) performance so they better facilitate the person’s success.

Of course, the Proactive manager occasionally determines a specific person either can’t or won’t perform as expected no matter what is done but typically, the proactive manager assumes shared responsibility for assuring the success of others.

Proactive managers accept people as is. Their goal isn’t to change anyone. Rather, they focus on encouraging and facilitating in ways enabling each person to achieve optimal performance within the context of their skills, abilities, and interests. Concurrently, they expect people to expand and improve their capacities and are ready to help however they can, within the resources and constraints of the organization. People are not expected to change but are expected to grow and develop as organizational participants.

Proactive managers are not stingy with praise nor are they lavish with it. They are quick to recognize and acknowledge the successes and accomplishments of others but do not confuse praise with simple good manners.

Please and thank you and noting someone did a good job or was helpful are not examples of praise. They are, rather, merely examples of good manners and are integral to the proactive manager’s habitual deportment. Alternatively, praise is an intentional and thoughtful action which privately or publicly acknowledges and commends excellence. Proactive managers reserve praise for exceptional or extraordinary performance, never missing an opportunity to praise when individual or group performance meets that standard.

Proactive managers understand holding people responsible and accountable on the one hand and blaming and accusing them on the other are not the same. Holding someone responsible is a performance standard. Holding them accountable is a performance expectation. Alternatively, blaming and accusing imply negative opinions and perceptions of the individual.

To blame someone or accuse them represents a pejorative assessment of them. Blaming and accusing are always subjective and personal while responsibility and accountability are performance elements that can be objectively evaluated and, if necessary, adjusted. Since the individual or group are accountable for their performance, the level of responsibility extended to them may be increased or decreased, depending on their performance.

To blame or accuse are counterproductive and incompatible with proactive management. Holding people responsible and accountable are key elements in the proactive manager’s approach with people. It starts with holding himself (or herself) responsible and accountable and then simply extending the principle to everyone else in the organization.

Proactive managers resist the temptation to either focus on what is not going well or on what is. It may be a function of human nature to attend mostly to the negative or to the positive, depending on ones personality. Proactive managers understand this is not a simple matter of choice or personal preference. The key to success is seeing neither focusing on the positive nor on the negative is advisable.

At a more fundamental level, the reality is the organization is continuously transitioning from a past state to a future state. The primary responsibility of the proactive manager is to affect the transition so as to actualize the desired future state. To do this, the task is to reduce and eliminate the disparity between the present and future states, without redefining or compromising the future state. Focus then needs to be collectively on the cluster of elements affecting the future state either as contributors or as Detractors, understanding neither is more or less important than the other. Focus must be on the gestalt.

Proactive managers demonstrate their respect for and are pleased by the successes and accomplishments of others. The key here is twofold. They both respect the achievements of others and actively demonstrate that respect and the pleasure they experience when others do well. Respect in this context includes holding the person and the action or accomplishment in high esteem, feeling delighted, and actively expressing approval.

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