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Proactivity Frees the Gerbil | The Navigator's Role in Leadership

Updated: Jan 6



By Keith Bean


Do you ever feel like a gerbil in a wheel? One month leads to the next and you feel caught in an endless cycle of playing catch-up. Would you love to be more proactive, but your days are a never-ending whirlwind of reacting? Proactivity? Forget it. Not in this business. You barely have time for lunch, let alone be proactive.


What if I told you there is a way to ease the cycle? Would you be willing to invest 30 minutes a month to get started? Not 30 minutes a day, 30 minutes a month! Would you be willing to try it? Would you like to enter a sales month feeling more in command of the month than a hostage to it? Would you like to lead from the front instead of playing catch-up from behind? Of course you would.


Before we get into it, let’s define proactivity so we’re all on the same page. In organizational behavior and industrial/organizational psychology, proactivity or proactive behavior by individuals refers to anticipatory, change-oriented and self-initiated behavior in situations. We are talking about the Navigator dimension of leadership. Great leaders are exceptional navigators. They’re not only driving the ship–making the tactical decisions to keep the ship on course–they’re also looking ahead, checking their maps and weather reports to see future opportunities and obstacles. This is the essence of proactivity and being a successful Navigator.



So how do you make the shift? It’s easy. To become proactive, you must perform proactive activities. You must do the work of proactivity. Becoming proactive is a choice and being proactive is a result of proactive work. We’re going to start with a thirty-minute monthly activity that will be a game-changer for you. But before we do that, let’s make sure our head is in the right place. Proactivity is about investing time and effort for a better future. Take off your “now” hat and put on your “future” hat. You’ll be glad you did.



In the following scenario, we’re going to invest 30 minutes at the beginning of the sales month. Let’s say it’s May 1st. You’ve just come off an epic, last minute finish and reached your quota. The month of April was pure chaos. It took a week to get going because March was much the same. Although you felt you had a decent plan for April, things went off-course early. It seemed like you spent half your time putting out fires and reacting instead of leading the sales team. If you’re like most leaders, you want the month to be different. You want more control and less chaos. So you spend some time thinking about the month ahead and put a decent plan together. Then it happens again, and again, and again. Each month starts the same. You are tired, and your team is tired from the heroic, end-of-month effort to hit the number. You pause, plan the month, and do it again. Here’s how you break the cycle.



First, there’s good news. You’re already used to looking ahead. You’re thinking proactively by planning out the new month. The problem is you're not thinking far enough ahead and you're doing it blind. It's like driving in fog. You can only see 50 feet ahead and must drive slower because you’re not sure what lies ahead. In this case, it’s not 50 feet, it’s 30 days. The clock is ticking, and your stress skyrockets because you need to make better progress to reach your destination on time. So, you push it, knowing it’s quite possible you’ll have to slam on the brakes, jerk the wheel, and worse case, crash.


The solution to becoming more proactive in a cyclical sales environment is in the navigational dimension of leadership. Think about the tools modern navigators use to steer their vessels. They use maps, charts, radar, sonar, weather data, vision, etc. To become better at being a proactive sales leader, we need to acquire some navigational tools. We will start this process with some basic cartography. Let's take note of where we've been.


Let’s assume it’s the first day of the month. Before we begin planning, we’re going to take 30 minutes with our team and start doing some map making and capture what we learned from last month. Here’s an example:


Last month, several sales and support personnel represented our company at an annual, offsite marketing event. Everyone felt it was a good event, but it came with a price. We scrambled at the last minute to put it together. This caused chaos and affected productivity before, during, and after the event. Here are the questions and answers we need to proactively approach this:


Do we want to participate next year? Yes, but we need to do it better.


How so? We need to plan and execute it better.


When will it go? It goes the 3rd week of April.


STOP. Put it on the calendar now. This starts the action plan.


When do we need to start planning for it? At least 6 months prior.


STOP. Put the planning meeting on the calendar 6 months prior to the 3rd week of April.


What did we learn at the event to make it better next year? (Capture ideas–this creates ownership and engagement.)


STOP. Attach those notes to the 6-month planning meeting.


What else did we learn that we can apply to be smarter next year? (Capture suggestions–this creates ownership and engagement.)


STOP. Attach those notes to the 6-month planning meeting.


Congratulations! You’ve just built a proactive, navigational tool. More importantly, you’ve captured the information while it’s fresh. If you don’t conduct proactive activities, you’ll end up repeating the same mistakes and worse, miss the opportunity to evolve and produce better results.

Here’s another example:


Wow! It was a great month! That weekend event we threw together at the beginning of the NFL Playoff season was a big hit. We sold more cars during that weekend than we ever have.


Do we want to repeat it next year? Absolutely, but we should take it up a notch or two.


How so? We need to plan for it, maybe get more creative, and execute it better.


When will it go? Wildcards start the 1st weekend in January.


STOP. Put it on the calendar now.


When do we need to start planning for it? Sixty days prior? We’ll need to get ahead of ordering the materials, advertising, and vendors. Maybe we should plan it 90 days in advance?


STOP. Put the planning meeting on the calendar 90 days ahead of the event.


What did we learn at the event to make it better next year? (Capture ideas–this creates ownership and engagement.)


STOP. Attach those notes to the 90 Day planning meeting.


What else did we learn that we can apply to be smarter next year? (Capture suggestions–this creates ownership and engagement.)


STOP. Attach those notes to the 90 Day planning meeting.



As your organization moves through time, each month, each event, each change presents an opportunity to learn and evolve. Once you start conducting proactive, map-building habits, it won’t be long before you start to control the cycle better. As an organization, you’ll start learning from what happened and applying it to the future. You’ll find yourself looking beyond 30 days. Your map will tell you there is a huge opportunity coming 90 days ahead of time and you can plan accordingly.


The problem with most organizations is they move too quickly from the old month to the new month. Take a pause and learn from your mistakes and successes. Reflect. Identify cause and effect relationships. Capture the learning and send it forward to your future self. This will change everything. You will begin to evolve. Your predictability, productivity, and profitability will improve. Your forecasting will have meaning.


Let’s say you brought in a motivational speaker one month which resulted in a demonstrable bump in energy and results. Put it one year out on the calendar under “previous year notes.” Next year you’ll be glad you did. Because if you’re going to provide an accurate forecast, it’s going to be really important to know what happened and why it happened last year. Do this and you’ll spend less time reacting. You’ll reduce chaos and become a much more reliable Captain. Go free the gerbil!


Keith Bean is a value-centric leader with vast experience and proven track record of sales leadership, culture engineering, leadership development, and employee engagement. If you are interested in discussing contract work, or speaking engagements, email kbean@themotivationplace.com. Keith resides in Clarkston, Michigan.


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