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Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ was written in 1989. But, 30 years on, it is still one of the most popular business books. In his blueprint for achieving goals, Covey’s first habit is “Be Proactive”. That’s how important he thought it was. And I agree.

‘Be more proactive’ has become a mantra trotted out in the business world for decades. But I think if you asked 100 people HOW you become more proactive, 80 of them would struggle to give you a decent answer.

Here’s three simple things you can do right now to become proactive and effective.

1. You’re in control of your own decisions

First and most important, recognise that you are in control of yourself. Even if you feel you’re being micromanaged by someone in your business or personal life, the fact is you are 100% free to decide how you respond in each situation.

Covey said, ‘I am not the product of my circumstances, I am the product of my decisions’.

Think of it this way. If you’re proactive, you’re “response-able”. If you’re reactive, you’re shaped by the people around you.

Of course, you can’t control everything and everyone. In fact, reactive people spend too much time worrying about things they can’t control. That makes them frustrated and worried. It’s always best to focus on the things you can influence.

2. Plan your day in more detail

The second aspect of being proactive is to plan better. This might seem obvious. But Reclaro® clients take this to the next level.

When I spend time with businesses, I usually see the opportunity for them to spend more time ‘prepping’ – for meetings, phone calls and tasks. It may seem counter-productive. But time spent prepping is never wasted.

For example, before every call and meeting, take one minute to write at the top of your notepad the one outcome you want to achieve from the conversation.

In a pressure situation during a meeting, there’s often a temptation to react quickly to an event. The secret is to pause, reflect, and choose a (considered) response that will deliver the desired outcome.

Example: you’re in a meeting with a potential supplier. You love their service and you like the sales consultant. He then reveals the price, and it’s double what you were expecting. Your immediate reaction might be to say no, and end the meeting, grumbling about wasted time. But you’re a proactive buyer. You’ve already predicted this scenario in your meeting prep. You have a desired outcome to work with this supplier and you’re ready for a negotiation. You get to work on agreeing a mutually acceptable price and everyone comes away from the meeting with a win.

So, the next time someone throws a curveball at you, pause and think, then choose your response. You’ll begin to get the outcomes you want.

Remember: Event plus your Response (not Reaction) equals your Outcome.

3. Think longer-term to avoid firefighting

The third thing you can do to become more proactive is to look further into the future.

Too many managers are busy firefighters, spending most of their working day firefighting the latest ‘emergency’ in their inbox. In other words, they’re being reactive to other people’s problems. This isn’t the hallmark of a successful leader.

Instead of letting things happen to you, a proactive leader learns to anticipate. Think more about what is coming up, and plan for potential scenarios before they become actual emergencies.

Being proactive is transformational

Being proactive changes everything. When you take control of your decisions in situations, you’ll be happier and more effective. When you plan more effectively in relation to your goals, you can focus on what’s important and say no to things that aren’t. And when you think longer-term, you can avoid landmines, or at least cope with them better.

When you do all of this, you move towards achieving your goals and becoming a more effective leader. Good luck.

Posted by Pete Wilkinson

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