• Foreseeing and intervening in anticipation of future needs or changes
  • Initiating and preparing beforehand rather than reacting afterwards
  • Taking steps ahead of time based on training, knowledge and experience
Being proactive is one of those admirable traits that a lot of people claim to have, but when it comes right down to it, they don't practice it. Like anything else worthwhile, it can be a little difficult and time-consuming. When dealing with multiple issues, we don't always have all the information we need to make the right decisions. Potential issues can be changed or eliminated completely before they become major problems affecting the outcome of a situation by simply sitting down and taking the time to think through all the different possible scenarios.  

In one of my past lives, I was a Communications Consultant in the Marketing Department at Southwestern Bell Telephone/AT&T. I sold network services and telephone equipment to medium/ large size businesses in central and western Oklahoma. I had worked there for several years when a decree from the upper echelons of the Marketing Department resulted in the formation of a new implementation group. This group of marketing employees would be responsible for coordinating the cutover of our products sold through Marketing with other telephone company departments. The new measure was an attempt to ensure that our installations were smooth and worry-free for our customers.  

It was a great concept and one that I really thought was beneficial to all areas of the company as well as our customers. However, I found out pretty fast that if my sale was assigned to a particular coordinator, there were bound to be issues. She continually talked about how she was "right on top of this or that," but I discovered the hard way that it usually meant that she was trying to climb out of the muck she had created by not anticipating what possibly could go wrong with the project. The sad part was this woman was a nice person and meant well; she just seemed to be completely overwhelmed most of the time. Offers for help from myself and others were accepted, but she just didn't seem to understand the concept of being proactive. She continued to blame the sales team in a roundabout way for her own blunders. Installers dreaded working with her because they would quite often get chewed out by an irate customer when things weren't going right. It was an extremely stressful situation.  

As luck would have it, employees were moved around again, and I was given the responsibility of heading one of the implementation teams myself. I was determined NOT to be like that other coordinator (who was, thankfully, moved out of the position with the latest shuffle).  As with all large projects, there was a lot to go wrong, and it usually would—unless I took steps to correct certain situations before they became huge issues. I learned early on to have a continuing dialog with all my departmental contacts and, most importantly, the customer. Even then, problems would pop up, but with everyone on board, the issues were usually minor and easy to correct. I was proud of the fact that the installers asked to be assigned to my projects because they knew what to expect. I don't know if I would have been as efficient if I hadn't learned from that previous coordinator's mistakes, but learning how to be proactive instead of reactive made each cutover much less stressful for everyone concerned. Although working with that ineffective coordinator was frustrating, it taught me a lot about dealing with issues and looking for ways to be more proactive.  

Now, years later, I'm at Funds For Learning and still encountering tasks and projects. I'm slower than I used to be, and sometimes I can't seem to remember anything, but, yet again, I try to anticipate potential complications, deal with them, and go on to the next assignment.  It's incredible how just a little planning and reflection before an upcoming project can keep that project on the right path. But sometimes, despite all our best efforts, a little snowball starts to roll anyway. If we're already trying to anticipate glitches, we're much better prepared to slow that snowball down before it becomes an avalanche and, at the least, lessen the final impact. Being proactive is a continuous process that needs to be consciously dealt with; otherwise, it's too easy to slip back into complacency and that comfortable, ineffective reactive mindset.    

Key words and phrases
Acting in anticipation; Causing something to happen; Taking steps based on experience; Foreseeing; Preparing beforehand; Intervening ahead of time; Initiating instead of reacting; Farsighted planning and action

Opposite terms
Shortsighted; Reactionary; Improvident; Myopic


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