#7 :: Habit 1, Be Proactive


“Be Proactive” is the first habit of highly effective people as Steven Covey described in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Being proactive is about taking responsibility of your actions, of your behaviours and focus your energy and time on things that you can control!


One characteristic of proactive people is that they feel responsible for what they are doing and take responsibility of their own lives. They do not blame circumstances, conditions or other people. They act from a responsibility state and take ownership of their actions, outcomes, opportunities and problems. Being proactive it means taking control and making things happen rather than just adjusting to a situation or waiting for something to happen.

Christopher Avery has made a great work on that subject. According to his research he found that people lack of problem-ownership, rather than of problem-solving ability. People will own many of the pimg_resp_processroblems related to their role but they will not take responsibility for things that are wrong in their surrounding ecosystem (teams, organizations e.t.c). And this had to do with our mental process to protect our ego from painful situations of owning things that are going wrong.

According to this model there are different “irresponsible” stages until someone reach the responsibility. We might thing that in many cases we are not experiencing all these different position while trying to deal with a specific problem but according to Dr. Avery maybe this has to do again with our minds that continuously trying to protect us owning it. Despite the fact that we experience or not all of these stages it is important that 1) we have the intention to operate as much as possible from a responsibility position, 2) being aware of the different positions we might fall while dealing with a problem, 3) learn from our irresponsible thoughts and get improved.

I will not describe the different positions but i do recommend to spend some time and learn more about this excellent model. When it first happened to learn about this mental process i was really curious to apply it for myself. Having the intention to operate as much possible from a responsibility position and practicing as much as possible this mental process i could say that it has become one of my habits. I’ve seen many positive changes in my personal and working life just trying to be more responsible and avoiding all these positions that are causing stress and pointless conflicts. This doesn’t mean that i am always acting from a responsibility state,  but i am able to observe in which irresponsible stage i’ve been stuck and why! And this is a great self awareness learning! 

I’ve tried this model with a few teams that i am coaching and it was really nice to see that whenever we had issues to overcome we were reflecting on the model. This helped us to move forward without staying in positions that were just causing more frustration and stress. Worth to mention that it is important first to teach and experiment that model with your team and discuss about the importance of shared responsibility in teamwork. When you all have a common understanding of this mental process use it whenever there are issues that the team should deal with! Coach your team to operate from a responsibility position, and support them observe in which irresponsible stage they have been stuck in. Use it in a team retrospective to reflect on the impacts operating from an irresponsible position and which were the benefits acting from a responsible one! Post the responsibility process poster in team’s area for quick reflections!

circle of influence & circle of concern

Another characteristic of proactive people is that they focus their energy on things they can control. As described in the seven habits of highly effective people, the problems, challenges and opportunities we face fall into two areas. The first is called circle of concern (outer circle) and the second one circle of influence (inner circle).

mthem3Proactive people put their energy in the circle of influence. They work on the things they can do something about. Reactive people on the other hand focus their efforts in the circle of concern, on things they have little or no control. Being aware of the areas we put our energy and effort is an important  step in becoming proactive! To understand a little bit more that concept it is suggested to imagine a circle with all the things that we care about. This is our circle of concern. Then we should imagine inside that circle all the things that we can do something about, we can affect or control. Our goal should be to expand our circle of influence and shrink our circle of concern, in other words to stop worrying about things we have no control and start working on things we can influence and change!

Experimenting with that concept and inspired by John Ryan’s  post on kaizen map, i have used a similar approach to help teams and individuals visualising their impediments. My main goal was to help them focus on things they can actually control and put their energy there instead of dealing with issues or impediments that they have no or indirect control and were causing a lot of stress and negative feelings.


For the visualisation you can use a cartesian coordinate system. In the vertical axis you put all the issues and impediments based on the priority or importance (irrespective if we can control or not). The next step is to start moving the ranked issues to the left or the right part of the horizontal axis. On the left part you move those issues that you have direct control and you can do something about and on the right part the issues that you need help of you have no control. For these items you need proactively and responsible, to think of people and networks within your organisation and your surrounding environment, that could resolve them or could provide the necessary support in order to help you gain direct control.

Whenever i am observing situations where teams and individuals are stressed due to the number of issues they need to handle, i am always discussing with them about the concept of circle of influence and concern. The next step is to use that visualisation tool to make clear the things that they need to put their effort, based on the level of control and importance! The feedback i’ve received in all the cases i’ve used it was very positive and i am really suggesting to try sth similar!

Concluding the key for a behaviour to become a habit is practice! Becoming proactive requires that you are response-able and that you put your effort and energy on things you can control! At least there are a couple of things to try for these two behaviours!

Are you still worrying about the storm that is coming?


must reading/inspiring videos

the seven habits of highly effective people, Stephen R. Covey

the mindset of an agile leader, Christopher Avery

the responsibility process, Christopher Avery


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