Not everyone is proactive at work, but those who practice this skill can have more success with their goals, says human resources expert Nancy Varsos, an American Management Association facilitator and the owner of Varsos Consulting.
“Be Proactive” happens to be the first of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a popular FranklinCovey course taught at AMA. And that’s for good reason, Varsos says.
“I am very passionate about this habit because I feel that it has gotten me to where I am today,” she says. “Being proactive is [being] resilient, looking for solutions instead of problems, knowing you can conquer almost anything.”
Look for solutions, not problems, to be proactive
Varsos explains some of the factors of proactivity and how it can help women in business:
Realize that no problem is too big to conquer. “Have you thought of all the opportunities to solve the problem?” Varsos asks. In situations where there’s not enough money or staff, you may have to find a stopgap that allows you to fix the problem. But the first rule is to have confidence that your skills and experience will find a way.
Fix things before they become problems. “No problem is a problem unless someone else knows it’s a problem,” Varsos points out. She shows her project management students, for instance, how huge it is to proactively manage a project. “If you make a mistake and then fix the mistake before anyone knows, it’s no longer a mistake,” she says.
Brainstorm resources and workarounds. “What are the thousand things I can tap into to make this work, and not take ‘no’ for an answer?” Varsos says. “OK, I’m having a budget moment—how do I work around the budget…. If I don’t have the answer, then I know how to find the answer.”
Forget gender bias. Women who are being promoted and moving up in the corporate world are the proactive ones, Varsos says. “They’re not afraid to conquer things.” She says such women don’t believe there’s a discrepancy between women and men, while women who lack resilience and proactivity may be left behind.
Educate yourself. Suppose you’re going for a job and don’t have all the skills listed as requirements. “You have to educate yourself enough before the interview to be able to come in and say learning this skill won’t be a problem; I’m already starting to learn it,” Varsos says. She notes that men already know to do this. “And I think that’s the attitude, that there are no failures, there’s only learning,” she adds.
Create a “wildly important goal” and let nothing stop you from achieving it. Varsos suggests writing a “contribution statement” about what you have to offer to your department or company, and then developing a big goal based on that statement. “Setting those wildly important goals will keep you focused,” she says.
Varsos shares that she graduated college despite having a reading and learning disability. She really wanted her degree, so she looked for resources and set up what she needed to do to make it happen.
“I’m a person who can see a dream and grab onto it,” she says. “Part of being proactive is setting your goal and not let anyone or anything get in your way.”
AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center offers programs, seminars, and events to help women succeed in business, and will help your organization start its own women’s leadership training initiative.