Stephen Covey, in his bestselling book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People lists Proactive behavior as the first habit. Most people react to situations or the environment. Proactive people assess the situation and act to prevent problems from happening. They focus energy on things they can change or control, leaving alone factors outside their sphere of control.
When problems do come, reactive people report problems and rely on others to solve them whereas proactives rather apply their resourcefulness and initiative to find solutions. They use the difficult situations and challenges as learning opportunities to upgrade their skills and competencies, and be better prepared for the future.
A proactive manager may for instance anticipate upcoming spikes in sales after studying seasonal trends, and order adequate stock and arrange for temporary seasonal staff. A reactive manager may remain oblivious to such trends and try to acquire more stock when demand rises and then make staff work overtime.
One important element of proactive behavior is effective prioritization. Good managers plan and develop the knack of putting first things first, or prioritizing. They avoid the temptation of sorting activities in their to-do list based on the proximity of the deadline, but rather sort to-do lists based on the importance of the task.
Proactive managers also specialize in getting things done by adopting a hands-on approach and and being close to ground realities and practical considerations over systems and policies in place. Good managers understand why a particular system exists and works around such systems if the systems results in a drag, provided that such circumvention does not defeat the purpose of the system.