The Foundational Habit of a True Leader

We are often told of all the things that leaders should be, how they should act, what they should say, etc. If you don’t believe me, just google the word “leadership” and you will find article after article of things that leaders should do (or not do). I know, I’ve written some of them myself.

At the root of most of these articles, you will find a habit that is truly foundational. One that matters most and is the source of much of what a great leaders does.

What’s that habit?

It’s to be proactive. It means that you habitually take responsibility. You take initiative. You act instead of waiting to be acted on. You’re resourceful. You don’t take no for an answer (at least not until there’s absolutely no way to get a ‘yes’).

Proactivity is a simple yet profound principle, but many people have trouble with it. It’s easier to be reactive and live on inertia than to stand up and lead out. We’re uncomfortable with change and the people who want to change things. We discount our own abilities (“I’m not a natural leader—I don’t know what to do—I don’t have any influence around here”).

The Wall Street Journal observes, “Most managers will spend their entire work life reacting to orders from above, reacting to pressures and problems from below, or simply reacting to the insistent demands of a busy workplace. If all you do is react, you will fail as a manager. You may be good at solving problems that arise. You may be skilled at responding to the needs and requests of those you work for or the people on your team. You may work long hours, be loved and respected by your employees and be the very model of organizational efficiency. But you will not be an effective manager.”[1]

Effective leaders are proactive, not reactive. They are passion-driven and resourceful and they find a way to achieve what matters most.

How are you doing?

  • Do you find yourself constantly firefighting – merely reacting to one issue after another – sometimes without even thinking about importance?
  • What actions or behaviors from other people cause a ‘knee jerk’ reaction from you?
  • How might you better step back from situations and assess them before reacting?
  • When was the last time you reacted in a way that you later regretted?
  • Do you realize that something being proactive means taking no action at all?


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