Proactive vs Reactive: Which Management Style Is Best?

CoachHub · 10 November 2022 · 7 min read

A Manager’s ability to positively influence a team and solve problems largely depends on their management style. Team members will enjoy working with a manager who envisions an objective and plans for possible challenges than one who delves right into it headfirst.

Great leaders are required to have foresight—the ability to see beyond the present situation, insight—the ability to identify possible ways to handle a situation, and hindsight—the ability to recall and make decisions from experience. Two major management styles exist—proactive and reactive—and managers tend to use one more than the other in interacting with their teams.

What are proactive and reactive management styles?

A proactive manager employs a management style that involves foreseeing potential needs, recognizing potential challenges related to those needs, and devising a comprehensive plan to address them. In essence, they take proactive measures to handle pre-identified risks effectively.

The manager who applies a reactive management style sets out on an objective and responds to problems, issues and challenges as they arise. The reactive manager doesn’t envision the possible challenges before setting out on an objective, hence they get to deal with it along the way.

Since it is not always possible to accurately predict challenges before they arise, every manager must have a blend of both reactive and proactive management skills. Understanding both styles and when to apply them will increase a leader’s effectiveness with their teams.

proactive vs reactive

Identifying the difference between proactive and reactive management styles

Managers are tasked with the responsibility of making and executing plans as it pertains to the organization’s objective. Every manager has the capacity to act proactively vs reactively and the decisions they make are a reflection of this ability.

Let’s look at scenarios from two procurement managers indicating the difference between proactive and reactive approaches to dealing with a challenge.

An organization’s procurement manager is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring an adequate supply of resources and goods needed for its effective operations. A manager who looks into the records of previous years is likely to identify trends and patterns in goods supply. They may find that procurement is quite challenging during some seasons of the year. They may notice a hike in the cost of goods in some months of the year than in others. A proactive leader draws up a plan to ensure cost-effective operations and encourages the management to stock up on supplies before the start of such seasons. Ultimately, when other organizations are dealing with inflation in the cost of goods due to a shortage in supply, the manager has managed the situation ahead of time. In the end, the organization can run smoothly and effectively thanks to the manager’s proactive management.

On the other hand, a procurement manager who plans to acquire their supply of goods as the need for it arises is likely to face challenges. If the organization receives a surge in demand for its products or services unexpectedly, the procurement will need to ensure that the required supply is available for smooth operations. Such a manager is likely to muster their team to get those goods from wherever, if their suppliers cannot meet up with the demand. The result of this reactive approach is that, they are likely to purchase the goods at a higher cost or worse off, may not find enough resources to meet up with the demand.

The important thing is to know when each approach is best applied instead of sticking to one style to solve every problem.

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Pros and cons of reactive and proactive management styles

What are the pros and cons of reactive vs proactive management?

Pros of Reactive management style:

Cons of reactive management style:

  • May lead to loss of resources and time as it makes it difficult to control the budget.
  • This approach may lead to the use of time and resources inefficiently and ineffectively.
  • It may interfere with laid-out plans and existing preventive measures.
  • Continuously using this approach can result in the depletion of business assets.

Pros of proactive management style:

  • This approach helps a manager avoid future damage and chaos.
  • A manager can effectively save time and resources and prevent wastage.
  • It gives room for discovering and implementing innovations ahead of time.
  • The manager can effectively create plans in line with the future of the business.

Cons of proactive management style:

  • It requires more time, resources and effort for upfront planning.
  • Not effective when there’s a time constraint for planning.
  • It’s difficult to anticipate all challenges accurately and plan for it
  • May lead to excessive use of resources in preparing for various challenges.
proactive vs reactive

Causes of a reactive mindset

A leader may face different challenges leading to a reactive mindset. Some of these may be due to the following reasons:

High labor turnovers:

When the number of employees leaving increases over time, the organization is soon left with new and inexperienced hands. This can create problems that are not planned for.

Poor goal setting and work motivation techniques:

Organizations with poor incentives for their worker’s performance and ones who set unachievable daily goals are likely to run into problems.

Intensely competitive environment:

This happens when the work environment is highly competitive. It causes the employees to lose focus and constantly watch their backs. This leads to a lack of foresight.

Unavailability of resources or lack of capacity:

An organization that lacks the adequate resources or capacity to provide the needed resources for planning cannot efficiently have a proactive mindset.

How managers can apply the Eisenhower Matrix in management

A leader can apply the Eisenhower matrix as a tool to upgrade their management style. The matrix is a task management tool that helps a manager organize and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance.

The tool helps you to separate your tasks into four separate quadrants—urgent, not urgent, important and not important. This way you identify tasks to be delegated to other employees and those to be canceled to create room for more important tasks. This helps leaders to avoid distractions from tasks that seemingly look important but in the real sense are not.

The Eisenhower matrix helps managers to note that the most important tasks to focus on may not seem urgent. When the priorities are realigned to focus on “important but not urgent tasks”, then they would have succeeded in dealing with all the future challenges, thereby preventing them from becoming problems that can cause damage to the business.

Using this tool, a proactive manager realizes when to apply a reactive approach to solve problems to avoid future damage. A reactive manager will also learn to prioritize planning over constantly having to deal with problems arising from a lack of a proper plan.

proactive vs reactive

Qualities of a proactive manager

The following qualities are common traits of proactive leaders.

  • They lay out qualitative plans and set attainable goals for themselves and their teams.
  • They focus on sticking to their plans while making room for flexibility toward achieving the set goals.
  • They prioritize attending to important but not urgent tasks within time blocks on their schedule.
  • They use tools such as planners and checklists to track progress.
  • They review results and re-strategize where necessary.
  • They unearth and identify innovations.
  • They save time and resources by avoiding damages that may arise from a reactive disposition.

How to be a more proactive leader

Today’s organizations require employees at all levels to constantly improve and develop in terms of skills. Without proactiveness, it’s difficult to achieve high-level performance in the workplace. Want to be more proactive? Here’s what to do.


Working with coaches helps workers and team members get the required feedback for attaining short-term goals. Organizations can collaborate with coaches to help team members and employees perform better.


Self-aware leaders understand how their behavior, emotions and thoughts affect workplace productivity. Being self-aware helps one to be conscious of what’s important amidst the hustle and bustle of activities.

Time management:

Proper time management helps a leader to identify what needs to be done at a time. Using a tool like the Eisenhower Matrix can help to build the time management skills required for planning and strategizing for future needs.

Strategic planning:

When plans are strategically created and followed, it gives room for proactivity and helps solves problems even before they surface or become full-blown.

Final Words…

Proactive leaders tend to get more done in the long run than reactive leaders. Various individuals may face inhibitions that limit their proactivity, hence they can seek coaching for improvement. Employers looking to develop proactive leaders and employees within the organization can also invest in coaching. With a coach’s help, individuals can unlearn reactive habits and take on new skills that enhance their proactivity.

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Samuel Olawole
Samuel Olawole is a freelance copywriter and content writer who specializes in creating exciting content across a wide range of topics and industries. When he’s not writing, you can find him traveling or listening to good music.

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