The prevailing wisdom about leaders and successful people is that they are proactive and in control. I agree to the degree that proactivity is about initiating action and doing what one can to take responsibility.
It isn’t quite the same as being in control.
I read two newspapers a day, and I have yet to see an article on the front page that I directly affected or controlled (unfortunately I’m not a titan of industry who’s words and actions move markets or cultures). Many of the articles I read do, however, affect me. Sometimes their impact is small and sometimes significant.
So am I “in control?”
Being in control is most often about how one interacts with circumstances and events bigger than oneself. Anticipation and preparation help mitigate the outcomes of those forces beyond our power, but it doesn’t give us control over them.
I believe a better strategy than proactivity is interactivity. To understand this concept, consider a surfer. As you watch from the beach, you realize that the surfer didn’t create the wave, but he or she interacts with the wave to create the outcome desired. The more skilled the surfer, the more able they are to interact with different waves and create better outcomes. Skill is very important, but it doesn’t give the surfer control over the wave. Only Mother Nature can make a wave.
Neither you nor I control the movement of the stock market so we study and make informed decisions about how to best invest. We don’t control the weather but we choose the clothes to wear on a particular day. We can’t control how a prospect will react to our presentation, but we plan our responses to questions or objections. And when bad things happen–whether deserved or undeserved–we need to respond in the most appropriate way. We don’t control the event; we control our response.
Interactive is a more common and useful strategy than proactive. To the degree you can be proactive, by all means, be proactive. But understand that we are more often not in complete control and as such we need to be interactive to live and lead successfully.