How to cultivate a proactive mindset

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Article provided by Sue France FCIPD, INLPTA

It is said that many years ago Assistants were reactive, were told what to do, fought fires, reacted to things that happened or wondered how did that happen? 

I believe to some extent that could be true today of some Assistants and I also believe many Assistants are super proactive in being prepared well in advance for all eventualities, taking the lead, forward thinking, enthusiastic, energetic, thoughtful, passionate about having a proactive attitude to be motivated as well as motivating others and above all ready to take action.

To be proactive you need to know and understand your “why” – your purpose, be able to manage up, think on behalf of your boss, play devil’s advocate, challenge your boss’s thinking as well as your own by looking at things from different perspectives, manage your own time as well as the time of your boss, anticipate the team’s needs, be solution oriented, take ownership, be accountable and thereby demonstrating your full value.

To enable the “proactive gene” you need the following three elements:

Thinking time

Schedule “thinking time”, whether it is for strategic thinking, thinking about how you can solve problems, how you can add value, thinking about how you could improve processes and procedures or even thinking about your own career etc. Once you have thought of some ideas, suggestions, insights, a different way forward, a way to improve things as well as how to change things for the better and save time and costs; then you need to make a decision about what you are going to do using critical thinking skills.

Questioning is the key to critical thinking and you need to question everything. Through questions you get to explore the deep layers of meaning and reasoning that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Thinking time will include setting goals as well as thinking about any obstacles that may occur and thinking about how you can get around these, then if and when you do hit obstacles you already have an advantage in solving them and less likely to give up.


Once you have spent time thinking and decided on your way forward then you need the confidence to stand up and speak out and take action. Confidence comes from understanding and loving yourself first which means you need to get rid of your limiting beliefs. Your positive self talk is important, listen to what you say to yourself and change negative thoughts to positive ones. Keep a ‘kudos’ file of all the things you have done well to boost your confidence when required.


Once you have thought about what you want to do and made the decision on the best way forward and found your confidence, then you need the dedication to act, accountability and pertinacity to never give up. If you wait for motivation first, you may never get started. Instead, you need to use your dedication to act, no matter how you feel and then motivation will follow.

To cultivate a proactive mindset use ‘TOAST’:


Take ownership

Choose a proactive attitude and concentrate on what you can control and influence and achieve results for yourself, your executive and your organization. Grasp opportunities that come your way and make opportunities for yourselves. Know it’s down to you to be accountable for delivering the right work, on time and to the best of your ability.

Ongoing communication

Ask questions, actively listen, make notes. Make your presence known especially when working remotely and communicate your thoughts and ideas and ask for feedback.

Aware and observant

Be aware of the wider world and not just the area you work in eg other departments/offices/organizations including the organizations of your customers and clients. Be aware of PESTLE – what is going on in politics, economics, social, technology, legislation and environmental matters that may affect you and your organization.

Solution orientated

Look at your personal as well as organizational systems, processes and procedures and discover where you can improve on them, saving time and costs. Think of solutions for ad hoc problems as they occur. Be prepared for the unexpected and be resourceful.

Time management expert

Having effective time management skills is paramount to enable you to think and act proactively.

Sue FranceAbout the author

Sue is passionate about the development of Assistants having been one for over 30 years and was The UK Times Crème/DHL PA of the Year. She was the training manager at a global firm, responsible for the development of 600 UK EAs and has owned her own training company since 2009 working in over 35 countries with thousands of assistants. She is an expert International Motivational Trainer, coach and conference Chairperson. Sue is an award-winning author of 2 best-selling books: “The Definitive Executive Assistant & Managerial Handbook 2nd Edition” and “The Definitive Personal Assistant & Secretarial Handbook 3rd edition. She is a Qualified Learning & Development Practitioner and coach with a post graduate diploma in Human Resource Management. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, a Certified behavioural profiling practitioner and a Certified Neuro Linguistic Programming Master Practitioner. Sue is a neuroscience enthusiast and loves teaching how to maximise your brain for excellence. She is also an Editorial board member of ‘Executive Support’ magazine

Sue would love to hear from you at [email protected] or visit

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