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Making Proactivity a Habit

By Daniel Bobinski

One book that’s mandatory reading for all my coaching clients is Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” First published in 1989, the book has been translated into 52 languages and has sold more than 25 million copies. Because its concepts dovetail with the emotional intelligence model, I even made “7 Habits” required reading when I taught management at Idaho State University.

Despite the book’s popularity, when people speak with me about their workplace issues, I discover that most people fall into one of three camps:

  1. Heard of the book but never read it
  2. Read the book but can’t name any habits
  3. Read the book, but can name only one or two habits

As I stated, the concepts in the book complement the EQ model, so consider this the first installment in a series that outlines the 7 habits. I’m a firm believer that Covey was right: If people habitually do these seven things, they will be more effective.

The first habit identified by Covey is “Be Proactive,” and we should note that he differentiates this from being reactive.

In simple terms, reactive people wait for problems to occur, then they react to the problems. Proactive people keep an eye out for potential problems and then act to prevent the problems from occurring – or at least minimize their impact.

As an example, a client once had an employee we’ll call Lorinda. Lorinda was knowledgeable, but not much of a team player. She would stand around as problems unfolded, and after the fact she would say, “I could have told you that was going to happen.” Her teammates were often frustrated, wondering why she didn’t speak up ahead of time or do something to prevent or minimize problems before they occurred.

After Lorinda finally quit, Kelly came on board, and the difference was night and day. Kelly paid attention to the projects and tasks of her teammates, and when she had ideas for how to make things more effective or efficient, she openly shared them. Also, when Kelly saw somebody needed a hand, she didn’t wait to be asked.

Everyone saw Kelly’s proactivity as a refreshing spark of energy, and it impacted the entire team for the better. Bonus: The organization’s productivity went up after Kelly came onboard.

Alternative phrase

Some clients tell me the phrase “take initiative” resonates better with them than “be proactive.” I say memorize whichever phrase works best for you because the outcome is the same: If you see something needs to be done, don’t wait for someone else to do it.

Being proactive/taking initiative is a key attribute for success in the self-management quadrant of the EQ model.

A word of caution, though. Covey is clear to point out that we should take initiative only in areas where we have authority to act – or at least in areas where we have some level of influence. If we put our efforts and energy in to trying to change things over which we have no control or influence, we are usually just wasting our time.

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach him through his website at or call his office at 208-375-7606.



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