Proactive #Leadership: Is Problem Prevention Unpopular?

Proactive Leadership: Problem Prevention a Priority?

When we think of leadership, many of us assume it’s proactive by definition. We might even consider the phrase proactive leadership to be redundant.

At the same time, I witness many leaders who commit resources to solving problems not to preventing them. Reactive not proactive leadership. It leaves me with the nagging question: 


Is problem prevention a priority for leaders or is it unpopular?

Proactive Leadership: Image is flip chart paper w/ words Problem Prevention

Proactive Leadership: Is Problem Prevention Unpopular? Image by solobasssteve via Flickr.

Image by solobasssteve via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Proactive Leadership: Why Problem Prevention May Be Unpopular

I’ve asked leaders, managers, team members, and colleagues this question. They offered different theories. 

We don’t focus on problem prevention because …

  1. We don’t know the importance and impact until the problem actually appears.
  2. There are always existing problems that must take precedence over prevention.
  3. If the problem doesn’t materialize, we’ve wasted our money and resources.
  4. Problem prevention can’t be measured. There’s no baseline to know if we’ve accomplished anything.
  5. There is an infinite number of possible problems. How would we choose which to prevent?
  6. Problem prevention would increase our operating costs.
  7. My career would stagnate. Nobody gets promoted because s/he prevented problems.
  8. Before a problem appears, there is no pain to motivate action. 

This is quite a list. It communicates lack of vision, poor planning, a misguided view of metrics, job security issues, and little or no initiative without pain.  Pretty bleak picture for proactive leadership.  

Yet there are past and current precedents showing that problem prevention is a valuable and achievable priority. 

  • Years back, manufacturing found the cost savings in preventing defects through total quality management.
  • Today company’s like Zappos and Amazon proactively pay employees to quit if they aren’t happy. They believe that unhappy employees make for unsuccessful companies. Why wait for the success to slide and then address the employee motivation issue?
  • Fair hiring practices are also designed to prevent law suits.


So is this proactive leadership only possible in these cases of legal requirements, quality based manufacturing, and very visionary leaders? No. All organizations can focus on problem prevention.



When we look at the list of reasons why leaders don’t focus on problem prevention, there is one underlying common element — the “we don’t know” element. 

  • We don’t know which potential problems are important enough to prevent.
  • We don’t know how to show achievement.
  • We don’t know the impact or the pain.
  • We don’t know the cost.


The first step to problem prevention is to make the intangibles tangible.  There are research organizations that study and publish data on most workplace issues.  

    For example, you can access findings on the cost and impact of workplace violence.  Instead of simply investing in “active shooter training” which is reactive, invest as well in workplace violence prevention programs. These include training about the warning signs and conducting early interventions.  Compare the costs of these programs to the research findings and you make the unknown, known. This is proactive leadership.
    There is much data on the negative effects of employee disengagement and low morale on company productivity and success.  Use this data to decide how much to invest in employee engagement programs and additional proactive leadership training.

There is no need to let the “we don’t know element” create a reactive culture in your organization.

Solving problems takes time and money AND drains those resources away from achieving the business vision. That’s a double hit against success!

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

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Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.



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2 Responses to “Proactive #Leadership: Is Problem Prevention Unpopular?”

  1. Lotus says:

    Kate, another great piece here. It made me reflect on my career and the leaders I’ve encountered. I’ve encountered more leaders who are reactive than proactive. I’ve also noticed that leaders find it easier to engage in preventative measures when things are good – when the preventative measures are, in fact, preventing problems and working. However, once there is a problem, it seems to create a snowball effect – the leader goes into bandage problem-solving mode and this reaction creates more problems that they try to fix with temporary fixes and it keeps going. I’ve only seen a few leaders who have been able to jump back into preventative mode after a big problem – their success is evident. Thanks again, Kate – great topic of discussion and reflection!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      You raise an interesting question Lotus. Are leaders more likely to be proactive when things are going well? Makes me wonder if there is more than just the time element involved in foresight. Mindset is affected by many factors.

      I will be thinking more about this!

      Many thanks,

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