Responsive Leadership – Not Reactive

“It takes maturity to respond, rather than react. Remember this when you feel upset with customers and co-workers alike. Exercise emotional maturity, self-control, kindness…and take the high road.” – Steve Dorfman

Leaders in a company are probably the most closely watched and continually emulated people. Employees expect them to act and behave in a certain way and whatever they do is taken to be true and things that should be done. Therefore, in delving into the difference between responding and reacting, let us see why responsive leadership – not reactive leadership is more prudent and the better example to set. Responsive leadership is about – apply thought and care, a result of reasoning, clear communication and other such actions that display sound judgement. Reactive behaviour on the other hand comes across as being defensive, having something to hide and even aggressive. The spoken and unspoken messages are ‘garbled’, confusing and don’t depict clarity of thought. Responsive leadership is about ‘leading’ people by providing them with crisp, clear and critical information that would align with the purpose and goal of the message and paves the path for onward movement. Responsive leadership is mindful of others and is centred on the overall objectives, culture and values of the company and does not seek to feed and pacify one’s own ego and self-focused aims. Given these characteristics it would be justified to say that responsive leadership is open, transparent, honest and ensures integrity of the responses – these traits are beneficial to all.

Responsive leadership is about being ‘responsible’ and is not influenced or guided by emotion but by rationality. Even though a response could seem to be passive or lacking a ‘sense of urgency’, it is most often the best method to veer the interaction towards a win-win closure. Responsive leadership is about engaging people in sensible conversation that is positive and aimed at listening. Such conversation remains positive and leads to each person learning something and arriving to a conclusion that is most acceptable and favourable. If leaders were to react (read as being impatient and impulsive) each time the company was faced with a problem, there would be utter confusion, no long term solutions and most people would be left with a feeling of not being represented or heard.

We have said earlier that companies use past experiences and data to support current theories and strategies and even decide future courses of action. However, with the variety of changes it is not sensible to let the past condition your current behaviour. Responsive leadership deals with new circumstances, opportunities and even threats without being conditioned by the past. They fashion strategies that would sustain under pressure and crisis and deal with challenges in a more systematic manner. Responsive leadership remains clear headed and is focused on the long term vision – these are extremely crucial for any business at any stage. Reactive leadership on the other hand, makes decisions that are ‘tainted’ with memories of past failures and hard to leave habits which make it tough to make calm, prudent and rational decisions.

Responsive leadership is all about judgement. It is about reaching conclusions – not jumping to them. Leaders who practice this kind of leadership view a situation thoroughly, take opinions and feedback and are more amenable to accepting that their views may not be the best. Responsive leadership instead uses its past mistakes or errors in judgement to create fresh and better responses and solutions rather than allowing these errors to overwhelm it. Leaders that know that responding is better than reacting remain composed, have negligible stress and are able to support a happy work environment. Employees too remain happier and less stressed as it is clear that their leadership will make good decisions that would benefit each one professionally and personally. A company’s reputation also enhances as customers, vendors, investors and others receive better service, good deals, creative and personalized products, honest interactions, payments are on time and other such positive behaviours.

What is it that leads to responsive leadership? How can people develop into being more responsive and less reactive? Anyone can practice responsive leadership – it is in fact required for one’s everyday life at work and outside. In our opinion there are few things that could be done to being responsive rather than reactive.

  • It is human nature to react immediately, especially if the situation is not to our liking. However, the basis of responsive leadership is to pause till the initial ill-feeling tides over. Taking a step back will allow one to respond to the situation more rationally as the mind is more relaxed and less stressed.
  • Another characteristic of responsive leadership is the understanding that decisions must never be taken when rushed, anxious or stressed. It is a given that some situations would lead to these feelings, but responsible leaders would stall a decision till they have a grip on their feelings and emotions.
  • Responsive leadership is about thinking of others involved, the situation, the resources required and moves beyond delving on one’s own opinions, thoughts and likes. Many companies arrange for their senior most leaders to move away from the office to conduct meetings that require some stringent and long lasting decisions. These ‘off-site’ meetings help to relax the mind as the surroundings are new and beautiful and the change of ‘scene’ energizes them. Moving away or around is a great way to develop more responsiveness and less reactive behaviour.
  • Many companies also have programs and trainings for their staff and leaders that help them recognize their own emotions, practicing self-control and even to learn how to breathe when stress strikes. Reactive behaviour can be avoided simply by understanding how one behaves when one is emotionally charged. Responsive leadership in a way has mastered the act of conquering the initial reactions in order to avoid even bigger issues. Being aware that one is not in control when things don’t go as planned will lead to exercising more restraint the next time round. People who are trying to build capability of responding make time for themselves and others and use this time to think creatively and for everyone’s benefit. The more such people there are in the company, the greater the benefit and the company has a more stable environment leading to more trust and confidence from the outside. Internal unrest soon becomes obvious to others and companies begin to lose business from customers and other people like investors, vendors and other stakeholders also begin to ‘break away’.
  • Responsive leadership is about understanding that trying to focus on more than one situation at a time is a futile exercise. To become a responsible leader it is vital that one practices focus and a single-minded approach to situations that could become ugly and lead to worse problems. It may seem like a tough call to practice responsive leadership but it is possible and worth every minute spent on cultivating it.

In business (and in personal life) we know from experience, that a single wrong move as a result of reactive behaviour can create a plethora of problems that are bigger and way more complex. Relationships are often damaged irreparably when harsh words are spoken, impulsive decisions are taken and situations managed by a self-centred reactive approach. Sometimes even one such damaged relationship can have a domino effect leading to the weakening and ultimate downfall of a company. Companies that are sincere in their efforts to create a happy workplace and workforce will ensure that they develop responsive leadership. The company’s aim will be to create value for all, overcome challenges with a spirit of mutual cooperation and build and develop mutually inclusive relationships – this is all possible through responsive leadership and is the responsibility of all those who work in the company.

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