Reactive management is sometimes referred to as the "firefighting" approach to leadership. As a manager, you wait until problems or crises surface then come up with a solution. In contrast, a proactive manager plans ahead and addresses strategies and processes that help protect against potential calamities. Proactive management is usually much more effective in the long run.

Reactive Management Strategy Basics

An application of reactive management occurs in retail, when an upset customer complains aggressively to an associate who is not equipped or prepared to respond. The associate gets unnerved and stressed then calls on a manager. The manager approaches, listens to the problem or complaint, and attempts to offer a remedy. A remedy is ultimately effected, but not without the risk of the customer storming out and the employee becoming emotionally overwhelmed. Other examples of reactive management include waiting for employees to complain about poor working conditions before taking action. Providing training or coaching only when directly asked by an employee is another example of being reactive.

Reactive Management Reasons and Problems

Typically, managers use a reactive approach because they have failed to plan with a proactive one. If you don't plan, you have little choice but to react to the situations and circumstances that arise. The primary problem with reactive management is that some problems escalate beyond the point of no return before you become aware of them. This scenario can lead to lost customers, low employee morale and high turnover. Your performance as a manager also suffers when you are bogged down with time-consuming and stressful firefighting, according to management advisory website Mind Tools.

Proactive Management Strategy Basics

A proactive management style centers on planning, by creating structures and systems that protect against possible crises. Additionally, proactive managers prepare their employees for success by coaching them to follow the most effective processes in their job roles. Keeping a detailed calendar, establishing a personal development plan and managing relationships with workers in an ongoing manner are key strategies in proactive management, states a September 2010 article on the Management Training Specialists website. Rather than panicking and feeling unequipped, a retail associate is more likely to know how to respond to the upset customer when he is trained in advance.

Benefits of Proactive Management

Among the most compelling benefits of proactive management is a greater sense of control, reports Mind Tools. Rather than having crises and worker demands determine your schedule, you create a plan that allows you to control when and how you lead. Proactive managers also identify the best way to do things before a problem pops up with a poor system or process; freedom from firefighting allows for greater time to implement best practices. Risks are managed with careful planning and orchestrated execution. The proactive manager also makes positive worker morale a priority and is always looking for better ways to lead and develop the organization.