One of the major issues that surfaced in the 2010 Workplace Issues Report (and the 2007 report for that matter) is being proactive.

You know – that state when you put out the fire before it’s a raging inferno?

Or maybe even take the matches and paper away from your colleague before he starts the blaze?

Seriously though — we all are faced with piles of work, but some of us (not usually me) manage to look ahead, see emerging issues and handle them gracefully.  Others of us wait ’till the challenges are in our faces.  On the survey, there were a lot of comments about leaders missing simple opportunities to address people-challenges — like giving feedback, expressing dissatisfaction with underperformance, calling someone on it when they don’t follow through… It’s pretty self-evident that work and life would be easier if we took care of these people issues when they’re small… so why is that so difficult?

I suspect it’s because our emotional brains like to focus on threats & challenges — the more immediate and urgent the more attractive.  When a problem is not pressing it floats out there in the abstract “maybe important” land.

I also find that as I think through my priorities, I cast a haze of yucky-ness on certain items.  I tell myself this will be unpleasant, unproductive, boring, annoying… and somehow that item keeps slipping to the bottom of the pile.

The obvious downside of this inactivity in proactivity is that problems escalate and require more time and attention later.  Pay now or pay more later.  The less obvious downside is about reactivity.  As issues mount, pressure builds.  The natural emotional response is to push back.  So we miss a few chances to be proactive, and now we’ve got fires burning.  Everywhere!  Instead of stepping back and carefully managing the process, we come in blasting the fire hose.  Instead of a response, we have a reaction — and inevitably our reactivity provokes reactivity from others.  Ouch.

So what keeps you from proactively dealing with people challenges?  Then what happens?

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