Let’s take a few minutes to look critically at your actions in the workplace.
Do you react to the events happening around you or do you take initiative to prepare for, participate in and/or control the events?
Do you take an active or passive role? Do you think in terms of the present or do you look to the future, anticipating outcomes and preparing for the consequences?
Do you make a decision only when you have to, when you’re backed into a corner or when you’ve put it off for as long as you can? Or do you make conscious decisions as part of a larger, long-term plan?
In my experience, the most valuable employees are the ones who are proactive. By definition, this means they control situations by causing things to happen rather than waiting to respond after things happen. People who are proactive don’t sit around waiting for answers to appear; they stand up, put one foot in front of the other, and find the answers. They don’t wait for someone to hand them an instruction manual and a box of tools; they’re resourceful.
Proactive people are constantly moving forward, looking to the future, and making things happen. They’re actively engaged, not passively observing. Being proactive is a way of thinking and acting.
Now, this concept can be a little abstract for some. An article written by motivational speaker, Craig Harper in 2007 explains it like this:
Reactive is, “I’ve got massive chest pain and pins and needles down my arm. Maybe I’ll go to the doctor.” Proactive is, “Even though I have no symptoms, I want to live a long, healthy life so I have embraced the life-long habits of healthy eating and regular exercise.”
So, are you being proactive or reactive in the workplace?
Certainly, there are times when it’s appropriate to be reactive. We have plenty of decisions to make in-the-moment. There are times when we need to be flexible and adapt to a rapidly changing environment. There are times when long-term plans must be abandoned in order to meet immediate needs. And there will always be those unavoidable roadblocks that even the most proactive person in the world would not have been able to foresee or avoid.
However, the ability to be proactive provides a clear advantage in the workplace and most managers expect staff members to demonstrate a proactive mentality.
I have identified five key behaviors (The 5 P’s) involved in being proactive. Below, I’ve outlined my system and exactly how you can develop your abilities in each area.
In order to be proactive, you must first develop foresight.
Proactive people are rarely caught by surprise. Learn to anticipate problems and events. Understand how things work; look for patterns; recognize the regular routines, daily practices and natural cycles that exist in your business. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to become complacent. Use your imagination when anticipating future outcomes. Don’t simply expect the past to always be an accurate predictor for the future; use your creativity and logic. Come up with multiple scenarios for how events could unfold. Proactive people are always on their toes.
Proactive people foresee potential obstacles and exert their power to find ways to overcome them before those obstacles turn into concrete roadblocks.
They prevent problems that others would simply look back on in hindsight and claim unavoidable. Don’t allow yourself to get swept up in a feeling of powerlessness. When challenges approach, take control and confront them head on before they grow into overwhelming problems.
Proactive people plan for the future.
Avoid one-step, “here and now” thinking and instead, look ahead and anticipate long-term consequences. Bring the future into the present; what can you do today to ensure success tomorrow? Don’t make decisions in a vacuum; every decision is a link in a chain of events leading to one final conclusion. In order to make the best decision, you have to know where you came from, where you are, and where you want to end up.
Proactive people are not idle observers, they are active participants.
In order to be proactive, you must get involved. You have to take initiative and be a part of the solution. Recognize that you are only a piece of the whole and that you influence—and are influenced by—the actions of others. Don’t simply react to them. Engage with them. Exert your influence and make a contribution.
Being proactive means taking timely, effective action.
You must be decisive and willing to do the work NOW. Procrastination is not an option. Take ownership of your performance and hold yourself accountable. Stand behind your decisions. Being proactive means you have taken careful, thoughtful steps to choose the appropriate path; you’re not just reacting impulsively to your environment.
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Written by Chrissy Scivicque, August 26th, 2010 | 4 Comments »
This is post is part of my Bad Career Advice series in which I expose outdated, clichéd, and counterproductive advice for exactly what it is.
Congratulations! You’ve done such an amazing job managing your current responsibilities; we’ve decided to give you more! You’ve earned longer hours at the office, higher levels of stress, and no additional vacation time. Plus—here’s the good news—that minimal increase in salary will be completely wiped out by taxes.
Promotions sometimes feel like back-handed compliments. Sadly, we’re programmed from an early age to strive for them. A promotion, we’re told, is the ultimate reward for a job well done. Unfortunately, it isn’t always a positive career move for the person being promoted. While it may feel flattering at first, reality soon comes crashing in, and the scenario described at the beginning of this post is often a pretty accurate description.
In all likelihood, a promotion means more work and more responsibility. It sometimes means a new title, raise or some other perk. Most of us get so entrenched in the idea of “upward movement” that we jump at the opportunity of promotion, regardless of the true impact and how (or if) it will support our larger career goals.
The ironic part is that promotions are usually offered at a point when you’re really in a productive rhythm with your current responsibilities; you’ve got the program down. A promotion can change all that. You could end up doing entirely different work and the tasks at which you’ve become so skilled may fall to another. Or, you may end up simply accumulating more tasks making the high-quality work that brought you to the attention of the higher ups a near impossibility to maintain.
Many people find that accepting a promotion pulls them away from the work they love and the skills they’ve honed. For some, it’s an opportunity to expand their comfort zone and learn new things. For others, it’s simply a distraction.
So, when offered a promotion, how are you to know it’s the right move for you? There’s no easy way to know for sure. The best you can do is think it over with a clear mind and honestly weigh the pros and cons.
Evaluate it as an opportunity, not a reward.
A bonus is a reward; there’s no question you should accept it. A promotion, however, is an opportunity. It comes with risks and potential rewards.
Consider how it will support or distract from your long-term career goals.
What experience do you stand to gain if you accept this promotion? Is the experience valuable to you and your long-term career strategy? Even if the position itself isn’t necessarily what you’re looking for, the skills you will gain might make it worthwhile.
What other opportunities might this lead to?
Even if this immediate move isn’t a perfect fit, there may be other opportunities more in line with your career goals down the road that may emerge from this. By saying “no” to this, there may be long-term implications.
Remember that (in that vast majority of cases) a promotion is an offer. It’s not a requirement. You don’t have to accept it. If it’s not the right move for you, share your thoughts with management. Perhaps expressing your career goals in such a way will help them identify other opportunities that may be more appropriate for you. Be clear about what you’re looking for and why.
Those who say “quitters never win” are fooling themselves. If you stick something out just because you’re afraid of giving up—and it’s something that no longer serves you—you’re wasting your time. And ultimately, you lose. Sure, you’re not a quitter. But you sure as hell aren’t winning either.
Still, as we all know, quitting sometimes really isn’t an option. Not because it isn’t the right thing to do; sometimes, you just can’t feasibly move on. Maybe you just can’t financially afford to leave your current job. Or maybe the health insurance coverage isn’t something you can give up. Or maybe the stress of leaving right now would be far worse than the stress of simply sticking it out for a while longer. These things happen. This is reality.
You can’t always pick up and move on the second you realize it’s the right thing to do. In fact, it’s rare that a decision to quit can be acted on quickly. It takes time and preparation. So, if you know it’s time to quit but doing so right now simply isn’t possible, try the following:
1. Emotionally disconnect.
Remember: It’s just work, it’s not YOU. Many people—myself included—think of work as an extension of their identity. So, if you’re in a job you hate, you can start to hate yourself. Now is the time to put it in perspective. You are not your job. Your job is simply providing you with something—whatever that thing is that makes quitting impossible. Focus on that and break the emotional connection.
2. Find a friend.
Happiness has a lot to do with relationships. Even if you’re ready to leave your job, you can still enjoy the social side of work. Find a person—just one is all it takes—who gets you. Having a friend at work makes every day easier.
3. Get out.
Don’t just hang around in an environment that feels like it’s slowly draining you. Get out and breathe some fresh air. Take lunch out of the office, go on walks throughout the day, or just take a few minutes to sit outside instead of stewing in the frustration that surrounds you. The more perspective you can get, the more you’ll be able to deal with the current situation.
4. Take steps.
It might not be feasible to quit right now, but circumstances will change. Start saving money, learn new skills, network and make connections. Prepare yourself for a time when you can leave this job and find something more fulfilling…because it will happen sooner or later.
5. Stress less.
I call this “managing the inner game” and truly, this is the most important point here. Believe me, once you know that quitting is what you’d like to do but it’s just not possible at the moment, your stress will skyrocket. This is a natural result of feeling trapped. Every instinct in your body is screaming, “FIGHT OR FLIGHT!” It’s also a result of feeling stagnant. You want to move forward and yet, due to circumstances beyond your control, you’re standing still. Don’t ignore these emotions; manage them. Actively work to get your stress under control so you don’t end up making some irrational, emotional decision you’ll later regret.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a big fan of podcasts. Radio Lab (produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR) is one of my current favorites. A recent episode on the topic of “choice” discussed a fascinating scientific research study that had unexpected results and significant implications. Here’s a summary:
Two people are given two different sets of numbers to remember. One person gets two numbers, while the other gets seven. After being told their number sets, the two individuals are asked to walk down a hall and go to another room where they’ll be asked to recite their numbers. While walking down the hall, they’re approached (in a seemingly unplanned fashion) by a kind staff member who says that, as a special thank you for participating in the study, they can have one of two special snacks. The first snack is a big, gooey slice of chocolate cake. The second is a small, healthy bowl of fruit salad. They were asked to make a choice between the two.
Oddly, the people trying to remember two numbers almost always picked the fruit salad while people remembering seven almost always chose the cake. Coincidence? Nope.
Yes…But What Does It MEAN?
The researchers concluded that there are two parts of the brain involved in decision-making: the “rational” brain and the “emotional” brain. When the rational brain is busy trying to remember something significant (like a string of seven numbers), the emotional brain takes over in the decision-making process and, apparently, an unhealthy slice of chocolate cake is a thoroughly emotional choice. Those remembering just two numbers were more capable of using their rational brains and suppressing their emotional brains; thus, the healthier fruit salad decision was made.
It sounded like a stretch when I first heard it, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. When making decisions, we need our wits about us. When we’re distracted, even by something as simple as remembering a string of numbers, we’re more likely to make decisions that appeal to our emotions. These are the choices that feel comfortable and reassuring. They aren’t necessarily the rational, well thought-out decisions.
Let Your Rational Brain Focus on the Important Things
So, what does this teach us? The simple answer is this: If you want to make smart decisions, use your rational brain. In order to do that, you have to make sure that part of the brain isn’t distracted by something else, like your to-do list or some unresolved conflict.
If you’re trying to make rational decisions and avoid emotional ones, don’t clutter your rational brain with unnecessary fluff. Keep it as empty as possible so it has the energy to focus on the important things. An easy way to do this is to simply write things down and get them out of your head.
When I heard about this experiment, I wondered how it might have gone differently if the individuals had been allowed to write down the string of numbers. The conclusions seem to suggest that this would have led to everyone choosing fruit salad since, having written down the information, the rational brain would have been free to make all the smart decisions in the world.
Sure, it’s not always easy to keep the rational brain focused, but just being aware of this information will likely inspire you to view your decision-making process a little bit differently. Next time you find yourself at a crossroads, ask which brain is in charge. If your rational brain is busy doing something else, grab its attention and get it involved.