Broadly, there are two styles of leadership — a leader who controls the workforce sets goals and charts the course for the employees to follow is one kind. A leader who inspires the same people into action is another. She does not order, but motivates. In the former, the employees abide by what has been commanded to them, and in the latter, the employees do not merely follow the orders but partake in the journey as an equal.

A hierarchical form of management if enforced in the strict sense will work only up to a certain point. The perils of maintaining a rigid system of a hierarchical environment are that it fails to maintain a congenial atmosphere where everyone can contribute. The world today calls for a revamp of all the outdated management systems where instructions are merely relayed down the chain of power. We need the employees, the working men and women at the lower level of management to be more proactive to make the performance of the organisation better. How do we do that? Simple, by bridging the gap between the different tiers of management.

Why do we need the employees to be proactive?

Simply put, it is the employees at the bottom of the pyramid who are responsible for bringing the plans into action. They implement the plans and strategies of the company. The effectiveness of every strategy or course of action ultimately depends on how well it is executed. This solely rests on the hands of the employees. It is, therefore, necessary for the employees to be responsible contributors to the functioning of the organisation. They have to be proactive and have an interest in the welfare of the company to bring any change.

To understand things better, let us consider the case of the antithesis of a proactive employee, a re-active employee. A re-active employee is motivated just by work benefits like salary and job security. It is not that they do not work; it is that their contributions are just about enough. They do not make an effort outside of the realm of their responsibilities. The problem with such an employee is that they make the bare minimum contribution. They do not, for instance, feel the moral obligation to do the extra bit that might help the company achieve their objectives to the fullest. Their work is confined to the responsibilities vested in them and what is expected of them.

A proactive employee goes an extra mile to gain success, not just for personal achievements, but in the larger interests of the company. An organisation can count on such employees to make the most out of a given opportunity or better, make the impossible possible. All forms of businesses are driven by the idea of gaining the maximum out of the bare minimum. In reality, carrying out such an idea needs an army of proactive employees.

Now comes the bigger question, how do we select proactive employees?

How can you maintain your employees as proactive?

The notion that people are inherently proactive or reactive is wrong. Often, the attitude of employees is a reflection of the attitude of their superiors. While working in an organisation on a permanent basis, an employee may be given a nudge in the right direction to motivate them to make a sizeable contribution. This can be in the form of promotions, bonuses etc. However, the ‘carrot and stick’ approach is a very short-sighted solution. It does not bring any far-reaching benefits. To bring a real shift in an employee's way of work, one should bring a real change in their mindsets, in the way they approach their work.

Being driven by materialistic goals alone will not give any employee the satisfaction of doing good work. It only gives them the temporary pleasure of receiving the reward. Moreover, people will be willing to give more only so long as they have such incentives, which is why we should move away from this incentive approach. By bringing them closer to the company and instilling in them a sense of belongingness, they will be provided with a different form of impetus, the kind that will have a long-lasting effect. More importantly, they will not have to be continuously schooled about how they should do their work. Instead, they will be driven by a sense of purpose. This sense of purpose gives meaning to every work that they undertake, however trivial, which rejuvenates them.

A team of active, enthusiastic workers can bring significant changes to the ways of business. They give all it takes to achieve the organisational goals. This is because the proactive employees relate their personal goals with the organisational goals. Such a group of workers will create a dynamic and competitive work atmosphere. This, in turn, gives the company an edge in its competition.

How can a leader bring about such a sense of purpose?

The answer is quite simple. By becoming one of them! The idea is to inculcate in every employee a shared sense of responsibility. That is, every employee is allowed to be a leader in their own right and is made to feel responsible, held accountable for their actions. Here are some tips for a leader to follow.

  • Instead of merely passing down the orders, delegate work, delegate authority. This way, not only does the leaders relieve themselves of the burden, but they also make the employees feel responsible for their actions. This also makes every one of them heavily invested in the well-being of the organisation, as a result of which they take an active interest in working towards attaining the goals.
  • Give them freedom. As explained above, dictatorship does not bode well with the current climate. Such an attitude might cause the employees to have no affection towards their place of work which might, in turn, result in higher turnover rates, especially in times of need. An employee must have the luxury of a certain degree of freedom. This will eventually work in the company's favour. In times of crisis, such an employee is more likely to rise to the occasion. Such workers are more self-motivated, and they are compelled to work harder by their sense of moral obligation. A person suppressed by the superiors, on the other hand, will work only in the confines of the space provided to him/her.
  • Democratic leadership is the direct opposite of the autocratic model of leadership. This is a more healthy style of management as every member, irrespective of where they stand, concerning hierarchy, get to voice their opinions. The remarkable thing about such a system is participative decision making. This is another way of instilling a sense of purpose in the employees. They feel the weight of their voice and are naturally motivated to use it to make an impact. This way, it becomes a part of their mission to bring about the success of their organisation.
  • The sure-shot way to success is streamlining the operations of the organisation. This entails channelling the efforts of the workforce to direct it towards attaining the larger goals of the organisation. To do this, one has to translate the organisational goals into meaningful aims, the kind that a normal employee can relate to and towards which he/she can work. Knowing the end-result and why they do what they do will personalize the objectives to the employees.
  • Make them aware of the impact of their actions. The top and subsequent levels of management must maintain a proper channel of communication. Through this channel, one can effectively communicate to the subordinates about how their work affects the organisation's performance as a whole, and where they stand in the larger picture.
  • If there is one thing all of us desire in private, it is respect. When an employee gets recognition for their efforts, no matter how big or small, she will be driven to do more. By recognising what they do, a leader also attaches value to the work they do. It is another way of saying that they are essential to the functioning of the organisation.
  • One-on-one attention. Being part of a team may at times have a negative effect on the people. They might not feel important enough. In such scenarios, by devoting individual attention, the employee can be brought back on track. Each member of the group will feel accounted for in this way. Also, they can be given feedback, both good and bad, by having a personal conversation which will be equivalent to valuing their work as important.

An autocratic leadership survives solely on the resolve of the leader. This system might fail in times of dire need which requires every member of the organisation to stand together. Especially in the present times, where change is the only constant, an organisation cannot survive on such a model of leadership. Today, companies are placing their bets on a different approach towards employees. Above all, they are treated with respect because of which the organisation gets their respect and absolute devotion in return. This makes the workplace not just efficient but also pleasant.