BE PROACTIVE; Essential Quality for Supervisors of All Types

BE PROACTIVE; Essential Quality for Supervisors of All Types

Be Proactive: Essential for Supervisors – Part 3
By Michael Brooke, Ph.D

Before you can start advising others how to get their act together, you need to ensure that you have got your act together. i.e. you need to walk the talk and set a good example. Now that you have a good idea of what supervisors need to do to be good supervisors, let us explore some basic qualities needed to make a person a positive, capable, responsible, diligent person, whether he/she is a supervisor or not.
"Being Proactive" is covered in this article; "Being Productive" will follow


Proactive means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives, and are not led around blindly by others. Our behavior is largely a function of our own decisions, rather than our conditions. We have the initiative and the drive to assume full responsibility for our own lives, and make things happen that should happen.

Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, (p.81-3) defines being Proactive/Reactive in terms of Circles of Concern. We all have concerns.
Proactive people deal almost exclusively with the area within which they have influence and can do something about. Their positive energy increases their Circle of Activity

Reactive people are concerned about everything and have little influence on anything. Their negative energy shrinks their Circle of Influence over time. As Covey puts it, "They focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern. They focus on the weaknesses of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. Their focus results in blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization."


Look at the word responsibility: response—ability: the ability to choose our response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, bad luck, other people (e.g. the boss, the wife, the children), etc. They accept their circumstances and their ability to respond to it (i.e. its their responsibility). Is there any surprise that proactive people are also good leaders?

Reactive people, on the other hand, blame every thing but themselves for their circumstances. Eleanor Roosevelt said "No one can hurt you without your consent." Mahatma Gandhi, the founder of modern day India, put it another way: "They cannot take away our self respect if we do not give it to them." For this reason Nelson Mandela is one of the great people of our time. For 27 years he remained in prison. He retained his self-respect throughout his sentence and in time became respected even by the most brutal prison wardens. When he finally left prison an old man he remained positive, strong and upbeat and never once blamed those that put him in prison. If he had been bitter for 27 years, imagine what a miserable old man he would have become.


Basic to being proactive and, by inference, a good leader, is having a good self-image. That means, for example, feeling good about yourself, respecting yourself and your accomplishments, as well as recognizing your mistakes (we all make them) as opportunities for learning and improvement.

Having a good self-image is not easy if, over the years, your parents, your teachers and your bosses have told you how useless you were. But developing your self-image can be done even in difficult circumstances.

Using positive thinking, proactive language and behavior as outlined below will definitely help you.


Write down a few things positive statements about yourself. Read them, memorize them and repeat them at least three times a day.
Find a quiet place, shut your eyes and, in your mind, visualize yourself acting in a positive, proactive manner at work or home. Do this for fifteen minutes once a day.

When you feel down, depressed, dejected, angry, take a few moments to think of (visualize) something or some place that is pleasant and calm. Then say to yourself some positive affirmations, such as "I have a lot to be thankful for." "I am a good person." "I know I can do this job well." Soon, you will be feeling positive and upbeat. Positive thinking does indeed work!

If you look good, you will feel good. Make an effort to be clean, well-groomed and dress smartly (that does not necessarily mean a 3-piece suit). You need to look the part of being a good, positive leader.


The choice of words, phrases, sentences, questions, statements, etc. that people use to communicate with others or with themselves—their "language"— may be reactive or proactive. Many people who are not as effective or productive as they have the potential to be use, either unconsciously or consciously, language that is reactive. You, as a supervisor, must consider very seriously your choice of daily language.


Here is a little activity for you. Below are two lined columns A and B , which you can replicate on a piece of paper. For each line, first write an example of reactive language in Column A; then turn it into a proactive example in Column B.

One example has been given to get you started.
A: Reactive B: Proactive
My wife didnt get my breakfast on I will make my own breakfast
time so I am late for work

Here are some examples, first of reactive language—to be avoided—and then of proactive language:
Reactive Language Proactive Language
Its not my fault. What can I do to improve the situation?
I cant help it; Im just like that. How can I learn to change my behaviour?
They wont let me do …. I will convince them, with logic and examples, that this is the correct course to take.
I dont have time to do …. How can I schedule my time to do the job?
She makes my life impossible. What can I do to improve our relationship?
My crew is driving me crazy. How can we work together as a team?
He is really on my case. What can I do to resolve the problem?
If only I won the Lottery, I could buy that house. I will plan and write goals to work towards so that I can buy a house.
I am not going to get involved. What can I do to help out? orI cant help here, but I can refer you to someone who can.
I am not very capable. There are many things that I am good at. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I am working to capitalize on my strengths and improve.
What a mess! Lets work together to clean it up.

Proactivity is essential to a positive life syle. Practice some of the suggestions above and watch your life turn around. Good Luck!

Michael Brooke, Ph.D is a retired university administrator last working at University of Victoria as Dean of Continuing Studies.
He is by professional adult educator, a corporate trainer and recruiter and a published author. He runs Internet businesses,
his mainstay being Prosperity Automated System, an automated marketing system, which you can see at Reach him at if you wish.