Curated Leadership for Today's World

The Reactive Leader

Posted on 04 February 2019


Those of us who have been in leadership for any amount of time, have probably been called reactive at one time or another. This reality struck me again as the result of a conversation I had with a colleague regarding some changes their boss was implementing.


All organizations are in a constant state of flux. If yours is not, you may be out of business in the next three to five years (if not sooner). Therefore, a leader must always be reacting to the changing landscape. And yes, I understand we are supposed to RESPOND and not REACT, but clichés aside, sometimes things hit my field of vision that are so irritating, distracting, or unexpected, I react. Leaders are human too.


Every organization has a chain of command which is defined as the order in which authority and power in an organization is wielded and delegated from top management to every employee at every level of the organization. The critical point to focus on here is the word EVERY. Making sure things happen in an efficient, effective, and ethical manner is the responsibility of EVERYONE.  


When leaders get sucked back into the tactical realm, they tend to react. That’s because the administrivia and basic organizational citizenship behaviors are supposed to be reflexive. Leaders rely on their individual contributors to be self-directing and self-correcting. And the reason we have managers is that sometimes individual contributors need coaching, teaching, or correction and leaders rely on them to identify and resolve issues at the lowest level.


When the leaders get wind, for example, that someone is misusing a corporate credit card to take friends and family to dinner, there have been a considerable number of missteps along the way, and that is what the leader is reacting to. I once had an airman in the Air Force use a government issued card to buy a personal vehicle! Sitting in the leadership chair is tough. We are significantly seeking to attract followers who are critical thinkers and active engagers. And yes, I know we are supposed to develop our followers—but followers also must also develop a sense of initiative and ownership to do what they need to do without being told.


That’s why I detest unverifiable sources and anonymous complaints; because they entirely skip everyone that could do something about the issue (plus, they are ripe for misuse and revenge). If your organization is so despicable that you can’t even get a message about wrongdoing to the top, don’t waste your time trying to fix it—get out before it implodes on you. And I am not kidding, I’ve been in this situation twice and punched out before the entity crashed and burned. I am all for an open door or open phone policy, but not at the expense of circumventing or disrespecting the chain of command.


Do you respect your leader enough to help ease the burden of leadership? If you miss an issue, do you complain that your boss is reactive, or do you take a good, hard look at where you could have resolved the problem long before it got to their desk and how you will prevent it from happening again? Leadership literature shows that 80% of what transpires in an organization is up to the followers. So, each of us needs to stop picking at our leader and start figuring out ways we can help them focus on the big picture things they need to be focusing on.


Want to hear more tremendous tips on how you can be the follower your leader needs? Check out A Message to Millennials: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You and Your Employer Needs You to Know and read all about the 7 Functions of Followership!

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1 comment

  • jeremy: February 04, 2019

    My experience for the past 20 years has been that if you do what you are told to do and go to you supervisor, or anyone above them with a concern..if the problem does not personally involve the person above you, they will not do anything about it, even if it is a safety issue. When you try to take your own power to do something, then you get burnt BIG TIME. Some times you do need to just go silent and let someone else complain, or get hurt before something gets done.

    The Bible tells us that bad company destroys good character, and that there is a time to speak, and a time to go silent. I have seen with my place of employment, ( I will with hold this place’s name), it is a judgement call on what you have to do and who you have to go to. This is ONE of the things that kills me about my place of employment.

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