Proactive Means Watch Your Step Please

Proactive Means Watch Your Step Please

I am at Podcamp Pittsburg X this weekend getting all sorts of ideas to improve the podcast and the blog.  I am looking forward to improving the site and getting access to both the blog and podcast in one spot. That said, the next installment of  Re-read Saturday is not ready so let’s revisit the first entry from the first Re-read.  The first re-read featured Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Enjoy!  Back to the Mythical Man-Month next week!

 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread – Habit One:  Be Proactive

The first of the 7 Habits is: Be Proactive.  Being proactive means choosing how you will set your own course. Many people believe that they are constrained by their genetics, their upbringing or their environment. These constraints create a trap that dictates a response. By falling into the stimulus/response trap we become the dogs in Pavlov’s famous experiment – we are controlled by the situation, rather than taking control of the situation.

Covey’s first Habit makes clear that how we react to any stimulus is our decision (Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath also reinforces this habit).   Actively making a decision allows us to bring our intellect to bear on the situation.  By being reactive we are driven by circumstance. When we are proactive, we are driven by our values.  Covey states that we are responsible for making things happen. The concept of the daily standup meeting helps to inject a decision process into the stimulus – response equation. Instead of stimulus = response, now stimulus => decision => response.

This is not merely an intellectual exercise.  I recently talked with an Agile team that had stopped doing retrospectives because the only problems they could identify were organizational.  The team was becoming frustrated because they felt that they couldn’t to anything to change these problems that impacted their performance. Instead of reframing the issues so they could proactively work on them, they just stopped doing retrospectives.

Covey also introduces the concepts of the ‘circle of concern,’ i.e. what we are worried about, and the ‘circle of influence,’ i.e. what we can affect, in this chapter.  Unless an issue is in our circle of influence we will not be able to affect them.  For example, the Agile team above stopped doing retrospectives because they decided that the issues they identified were in their circle of concern, but not in their circle of influence. Teams and individuals that focus on things they can’t control will breed negativity, which shrinks their circle of influence because negative attitudes make it even harder to create change. A better solution is to try to increase the team’s circle of influence – in other words, be proactive!

In many cases, our choice of language reflects whether we are reactive or proactive.  One of the comments that the Agile team made was: “Our team is distributed, therefore we have communication problems. That is just the way it is.” Instead, they could have said: “Our team is distributed and we are having communication problems, let’s try an experiment and use video.” Rather than reframing the communication issue and acting upon it, they let the environment act upon them. From their language, you can see that their failure to deal with the challenge became a self-filling prophecy.

We will always have constraints, but how we react to the constraints determines whether we are reactive or proactive. When we are proactive we empowered to work on changing our constraints instead of letting them work on us. However, giving our genetics, parents or environment the power to control us is not being proactive.  Being proactive empowers us and our teams, allowing us to ask, “What can we do to impact …”

The re-read entries:

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