Proactive Leadership

The Minnesota Timberwolves, the NBA franchise in Minnesota has had numerous head coaches through the years. I think (I hope) all of them had the goal of leading their team to an NBA Championship. I also assume all of them knew a whole lot more about basketball than I do. 

Too many of them however knew far less about leadership. One such coach who shall remain nameless was a basketball genius. He knew exactly what his players needed to do to succeed. He understood the strategies of opposing coaches and the game plans they developed. He was a master at the X’s and O’s of the game.

What he wasn’t able to do was get his players to commit to his style of play. Actually he couldn’t get his players to commit to much of anything.

He was a very reactive coach. 

He would see a player make a mistake in practice but being a strident conflict avoider he didn’t point it out. Not surprisingly the player would make the same mistake in a game and the coach would be doing a slow burn but still he kept quiet.

Here’s the trouble with that slow burn deal; eventually the slow burn turns explosive. So it was with this particular coach; after seeing the same mistake again and again he exploded in a rage that was almost frightening. 

His reaction had the exact opposite effect of what he needed. Not only did it not correct the mistake, he lost the trust and confidence of the player he verbally destroyed and most of the other players on the team as well.

Once his players didn’t trust him it became impossible for them to commit to him as a leader. 

Reactive leaders seldom seem to fair very well, proactive leaders on the other hand often do very very well. 

Proactive leaders do not do the slow burn. They compassionately and quickly confront problems and mistakes before there is a danger of an explosion. They understand that conflict is a necessity of leadership. They don’t shy away from pointing out mistakes and offering suggestions in order to “keep the peace.” 

Proactive leaders would prefer to celebrate a noisy disheveled success rather than mourn a quiet and orderly failure. 

To lead effectively you must be willing to risk upsetting a few people for a short time. The alternative is to upset a whole lotta people for a very long time. One scenario has the chance of leading to eventual success, the other is a pretty darn direct path to failure.

Conflict avoidance doesn’t work, it never works. I don’t often recommend using the word never but in this case I’ll even repeat it. 

Conflict avoidance never works. 

The best time to coach your people is in the moment a coaching opportunity presents itself. If you’re truly a leader you’ll be prepared for that moment and you’ll be proactive in preventing the identical opportunity from presenting itself a second, or third, or fourth time.

Proactive leaders get in front of problems and mistakes before the problems get in front of them. After all, it’s called “leading” for a reason.

8 thoughts on “Proactive Leadership

  1. I might even put “conflict avoidance” in quotation marks, because when that volcano blows, the conflict is far more intense than it would’ve been otherwise.

    On a completely unrelated topic, I’ve been reading about Mike Ditka’s early years coaching the Bears.

  2. Pastor Bernie says:

    Are you reading my mail? Well maybe my heart..what is the best way to move away from being conflict averse? What are healthy ways to begin especially as a faith-based leader. Thanks

    • Well Pastor of course you know the first step is prayer. Pray for wisdom to know what’s best for the other person. When we approach conflict with the other person’s interests in mind we choose our words differently. I try not to tell someone how they need to change, I just explain how I see the situation and then ask how they see it. Then I ask how I can help them get where they need to be and where they want to be. Compromise is almost always required but we usually end of far closer to a win-win then we would have been without the dialogue.

      • Pastor Bernie says:

        Thanks Steve – a helpful perspective for sure and yes prayer is key and a right heart that God helps me choose. Your wisdom and posts and input has helped me immensely – grateful for you!

  3. There is a lot of truth here. One of the hardest obstacles to overcome is being a selfish leader. I believe this posts falls right in line with how to avoid being a selfish leader. Great post

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