Responsive vs. Reactive Leadership: A Comparison

Are you someone who more often responds or reacts?

In the following leadership comparison, we put responsive and reactive leadership tendencies side by side to help you get to know the differences between these two leadership styles and see if you can identify which category you fit into.

Reactive Leaders React Without Thinking

Reactive leaders tend to only deal with what comes directly at them without citing any sort of strategy. When an issue arises, reactive leaders act on their gut feelings. Their faces get hot, fists clench, and they’re completely on the defensive. They respond in snap judgements or with the first thing that comes to mind in a raw, unfiltered reaction.

Reactive leaders attempt to provide an immediate solution, but they wind up acting on their emotions without thinking about their response, which often does more harm than good.

When your people are always tiptoeing around you and can’t tell what mood you’re in from one day to the next, don’t expect them to stick around for the long haul, most will be happier seeking out another opportunity where their supervisor is someone who acts more like a leader than a reactive, unstable boss.

Responsive Leaders React with Thought

When compared to their reactive counterparts, responsive leaders handle matters quite differently. When something goes wrong, responsive leaders keep it together under pressure, take the time to hear the other person out, and then carefully formulate their response.

When something doesn’t go their way at the meeting table, responsive leaders don’t let their temper get the best of them. A responsive leader’s comeback, so to speak, is always strategic and well thought out, first traveling through their personal filter and value system. With a reaction that’s backed by reasoning, responsive leaders are less likely to offend others, lose their cool, or waste others’ time.

Thoughtful in all aspects, responsive leaders care about the development of their people, are easier to work for and get along with, and are also more likely to inspire loyalty within their teams.

Leadership Scenario: Would You Respond or React?

Take a moment to think about the following scenario and how you might handle it:

You’ve just been informed that there was a data breach at your company and sensitive records have been leaked to the public. Your immediate action is to:

Reactive Response: Find out who was responsible and fire them. We don’t need someone who’s going to jeopardize the security and reputation of our company working here.

Responsive Response: Find out who was responsible and probe them to find out what really happened. Was this intentional or was it due to a failed system network that caused the employee to act in the way they did?

See the difference? While the reactive individual makes a snap judgment and keeps on moving, the responsive individual considers the whole picture framed against the company’s values, strategies, and tactics.

By considering that the breach could be due to a failed system that may have led the employee to take the wrong action, they ensure that this same error won’t happen again in the future.

Developing Responsive Leadership Starts with Changing How You React

If you don’t feel 100% confident that your leadership is responsive and not reactive, the coaches at Arden can help!

A true leadership turnaround involves changing how you think and perceive a challenging situation on a fundamental level. Partnering with an executive coach can help you take a critical (responsive!) look at your leadership in order to reveal the next steps required to overhaul or even fine tune your leadership style.

Think an executive coaching partnership might be right for you? Download our introductory guide about executive coaching to find out.