There’s a big difference between being proactive and being reactive. As leader and role model you need to understand how important it is for you to show up in a proactive way. In this blog post you’ll discover why being proactive is so important, why this crucial skill is often overlooked by self-leaders and some tools to help you become a more proactive version of you.


First things first, let’s have a quick look at the difference between being reactive vs. proactive. Where do you think you sit right now?

As a reactive person, you might:

Being reactive means that you respond to events after they happen. Or that your response is based on a habit or knee jerk reaction.

As a proactive person, you’re more likely to:

Being proactive means that you anticipate events in order to plan your response, or that you take initiative (a key word for The SLI, of course) and start events in motion yourself. It also means that when things do “just happen”, you take a bit of time to think about it and choose a response – rather than defaulting to habit.

Your work and relationships are hugely impacted by whether you tend towards being reactive or proactive. You’ve probably already figured out that, in both work and personal relationships, you’re more likely to “show up” more effectively if you adopt a proactive mindset. Self-leaders-in-waiting who focus on developing a proactive mindset become powerful, inspiring self-leaders.


The ups and downs of daily life, to-do lists, and media bombardment can condition us to respond to events in a reactive way. In an “always on” culture, where hitting pause to reflect is uncommon, we can overlook the power of being truly proactive.

The reality is that in every situation, be it positive or negative, you get to choose how to behave, how to think about it and how to frame it in your world. This can feel both empowering and like an enormous responsibility. It can seem easier to go through life thinking or saying, “I am like X because Y happened.” Taking the approach of, “Y happened to me, and I am going to respond by Z” takes more work but is essential for building your sense of personal control and empowering you to define your own path.

Taking the proactive approach as a self-leader means that, in times of turmoil, you will be able to say, “This is my situation, what am I going to do about it (and how am I going to look after my wellbeing)?”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

– Viktor Frankl, Man’s search for meaning


If you’ve made it to this point, you’re clearly dedicated to adopting a more proactive mindset – this is the first step in getting started! There are a few exercises you could try over the next week to assess where you currently sit on the proactive / reactive scale.

The key to being proactive is owning your decisions and making conscious choices about how to behave – either spontaneously or in response to a situation where most others would react. This can take a lot of mental effort and practice. But the more you practice, the more likely a positive habit will form. Proactive people will always find a way to make sure they are in a position of influence in a situation.

Identify what is within your power to influence – and how can you prepare for that?

The circles of control model (see diagram) can help you to assess how prepared you are for a variety of situations that could draw you into a reactive, instead of proactive, approach. Brainstorm sources of stress and challenge. If they are out of your control then place them in the circle of concern. If you can directly control them then place them into your circle of control. The circle of influence contains items which you cannot control (e.g. the weather) but where you can take a positive attitude and change the way you think about it (e.g. being accepting of the weather rather than worrying). By sorting out your challenges you can pick out which ones you can proactively tackle from the circle of control. You may also be able to bring things from the circle of concern into your influence by changing your attitude to them, giving you another layer of proactive action.

Make time for reflection.

Interrupt the reactive pattern / response. Journaling, thinking time, coaching, meditation or any other form of pause can help you come back to a more proactive response.

SMART plan ahead.

Anticipate challenges you will face, goals you want to work on and come up with a realistic and achievable plan. It doesn’t have to be rigid, but if you have a direction then you will be less likely to let yourself be thrown off track by reactive responses.

Try using the “I” statements outlined in the exercise below to reaffirm your personal control and ability to be proactive in every situation.

These common ways of phrasing feelings are very reactive:

  1. You make me angry.
  2. This report is irritating me.
  3. He disappointed me.

In each of these cases the speaker attributes cause to an external person or situation. These kinds of phrases could create a conflict because the other person may defend themselves, justify actions or feel attacked. It also puts the speaker in the position of ‘victim of circumstance’ and tends to elicit a reactive response.

“I” statements are a useful way of taking ownership for your own feelings. These phrases make use of the word “I”, reframing the scenario and often explain the personal values or circumstances in which a person feels that way.

For example:

  1. When I am not given the chance to share my ideas, I feel angry.
  2. I am irritated by how long it is taking me to complete this report.
  3. I get disappointed if people don’t fulfil their commitments.

By reframing in this way, you are better able to recognise your personal control / role in your feelings so that you are less likely to respond in a reactive way and more likely to take a proactive, radically responsible approach.


Self-leaders are more likely to take responsibility for their feelings, understanding that these are choices and can be shifted. 100 people could go through the same situation (hearing a joke, being called a name) but each responds slightly differently. Our feelings are never caused entirely by external circumstances – there may be an external stimulus but the way we feel is usually a result of our own values or attitude.

As an leader, now is a great time to reflect on:

Becoming proactive is an essential step towards stepping into your true power as a self-leader and will have an enormous positive impact on your personal and work relationships. Proactive people are more effective at anticipating situations, take time to reflect on their response and are empowered by the understanding that everything is a choice. Being proactive is a practice that takes practice – daily life can condition us to a more reactive response. But there are some easy steps you can take today to get started with becoming more proactive.

The Self Leadership Initiative nurtures proactive self-leaders like you with resources, programmes and trainings. Book in a free training consultation to explore how you can bring these leadership tools to your teams.