On proactiveness and career advancement in the workplace

A good friend once shared with me her frustration with her manager shortly after her performance evaluation.

“Tolu, can you believe that my manager did not approve my promotion, despite all my hard work this year” I gaped in disappointment since I knew how much she was really wanted that new role.

“What was the reason for the denial this time?”

“She began by first praising my work ethic and punctuality, but she could not recommend me for promotion. She believes I am “too reactive” when dealing with my colleagues and clients”.

“Oh dear, that’s serious!”.

“I find it preposterous that my boss won’t recommend me for promotion for such a trivial excuse ”, she sighed as she threw up her hands in frustration.

“Tough one, for sure. I am sorry to hear this,  but your manager’s feedback isn’t a trivial .  You should take her comment seriously. Did she offer any recommendation on how to improve over the next year?”, I asked.

“Yes, she suggested that I should be more proactive, but there is nothing I can do to please her. I think she just does not like me; she has her favorite staff members already. I need to move to another company where my work will be appreciated”, she concluded.  


If you are like my friend who believe hard work is everything in the workplace, you are sorely mistaken!. Power skills, such as proactiveness, are highly sought-after character attributes that enhance professional success in the workplace. Everyone values individuals who exhibit proactive behaviours on the team they make job easier. Proactive individuals are typically enterprising self-starters,  adept at taking initiatives, anticipating problems, coming up with innovative ideas.  They can work independently with minimal supervision and don’t need to be micromanaged.


Reactive individuals, on the other hand, are often caught flat footed by situations before they swing into action. While they tend to be poor at anticipating opportunities or problems, people with reactive personal traits tend to be good at managing the pressure of “putting out fires” . Unlike proactive individuals, they may be unable to take initiatives independently, requiring more direct supervisions with well-laid out instructions on project tasks and deadlines to get things done. Reactive people may also suffer from emotional dysregulation, procrastination, lack of motivation, and time management issues. Consequently, they might come across others as being “too sensitive”, less self-driven, more laid back, and not natural leaders.


So, how can you develop or improve on your proactiveness  if you exhibit more of reactive traits. Here are some key strategies I have found helpful while mentoring others on this same issue.

   The self-awareness factor

Self-awareness is the ability to objectively analyze and evaluate yourself and understand how others see you through reflection and introspection. With self-awareness, you are able to understand your strengths and weaknesses and also get to see things from the perspective of others. Self-awareness boosts your self-esteem/confidence, strengthens your decision-making, and enhances your ability to work with collaboratively with others. Proactive individuals are self-aware of their feelings, strengths, weaknesses, goals, and how they are perceived by others in the workplace. 

✅    Leveraging the power of vision and goal setting.

Proactive individuals are known to exhibit strong motivation to achieve their goals, which serves as their North Star for their activities and interaction with others. Developing that type of mindset often involves being clear about your life and/career goals and how to achieve them. Do you have clearly-defined specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that drive your day-to-day activities in the workplace or are you just drifting all over the place? Do you have a north start that drives your day-to-activities and how you contribute to your team and your organization, at large?

  Thinking within and outside the box.

Proactive people are often considered as creative geniuses who inspire change and innovation by thinking outside the box. That is not the complete truth. In fact, proactive people are good at combining both inside-the-box and out-of-the-the-box thinking and perspectives to drive change and creativity in their work. it all begins with your mind. Dedicating time for reflection on your work routines might be a good place to start. For example, have you thought about how to be proactive in your current position? What is your work routine like? Do you understand the business processes for your organization and how your role fits into the big picture? What issues and challenges could you identify in your organization’s business processes?. What solutions can you bring to your team? How would you sell the idea to your team and supervisors? How would you go about implementing this idea? Answering some of these questions can set you on the path to changing the narrative about you in the workplace. 

   Organizational and time management skills matters!

Investing in organizational and time management skills can also help improve your ability to be proactive with work. How good are you at managing your time and planning ahead. For example, if you struggle with procrastination, consider scheduling internal deadlines to help your preparation before a major project deadline. Such international deadlines can serve as buffers to help you prepare to meet project deadlines.

  A life-long commitment to continuous development and personal growth.

Proactive individuals are committed to continuously finding ways to improve themselves and their work. For example, you could develop proactive skills by constantly reflecting on your job responsibilities and assigned tasks and how to improve them. This can help you identify efficient ways to complete future project task while sparing more time to focus on other relevant projects.


In conclusion, underrating power skills, such as proactiveness, can leave you in a career rut for years. It’s important to understand that no one is borne reactive or proactive; these are behaviours that can be (un)learned. You can improve your proactiveness skills by applying these principles daily. It will bring about a transformation in how you deliver value in your workplace and improve your reputation with others.  As for my friend, we spent the following six months in coaching/mentoring her on these principles and many more to improve her proactiveness and other power skills. She’s currently working at a different organization where she’s is a mid-level manager and mentor to others.  


(c)ToluSajobi 2023