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189. Reactivity

About this Podcast

Ep. 189 – When we explore the etymology of the term “decide,” we uncover its roots in the Latin word “decidere.” “De-” means “off” or “down,” and “caedere” means “to cut.” In this historical context, “decide” originally meant to “cut off” or “cut away” alternative possibilities. The crucial insight? If we decide in advance of emotionally charged events, we are more likely to make logical, wise decisions.

Decisiveness involves navigating uncertainty with clarity and purpose. The power of decisiveness lies in making choices that shape outcomes, allowing us to carve a deliberate path forward.

By approaching decisions with foresight and careful consideration, we empower ourselves to make logical, wise decisions, mitigating the pitfalls of emotional reactivity. This proactive stance enables leaders to navigate challenges with a clear, level-headed perspective, fostering a culture of thoughtful decision-making without the need for drastic measures.

Be sure to tune in to this episode to gain insights into:

  • The real-life consequences of defaulting to quick, emotionally driven, reactive responses.
  • The ripple effect of reactivity on individual leaders and teams.
  • Strategies for balancing deliberate reactivity in critical situations.
  • Six key indicators of a reactive leadership pattern.

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Episode 189 Transcript:

Ramona Shaw [00:00:02]:

Episode 189 on the topic of reactivity, meaning how to not be a reactive leader, but be more proactive about your day and your role as a leader. Here’s the question. How do you successfully transition into your 1st official leadership role, build the confidence and competence to lead your team successfully, and establish yourself as a respected and trusted leader across the organization. That’s the question, and this show provides deep answers. Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. I’m your host, Ramona Shaw, and I’m on a mission to create workplaces where work is not seen as a source of stress and dread, but as a source of contribution, connection, and fulfillment. And this transition starts with developing a new generation of leaders who know how to lead so everyone wins and grows. In the show, you learn how to think, communicate, and act as the confident and competent leader you know you can be.

Ramona Shaw [00:00:57]:

Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. This episode on reactivity was prompted by the whole disaster, let’s call it, or chaos at OpenAI, when Sam Altman was ousted by the board earlier in November, their CTO then stepped into an interim CEO role only do then shortly after within a couple of days, the board announcing the new CEO who held the position a solid 55 hours before Sam Altman, the founder and and former CEO, returned back to open AI and resumed his CEO responsibilities. That all happened without a week, and I’m not going to talk here or speculate about the reason for why it happened, what went wrong, what are the lessons learned for them, for the board, for everyone involved. But I am saying that this whole debacle and what it did for the AI community as a whole, for the employees at OpenAI, for people closely involved in the situation like the interim CEO or then the new assigned CEO Emmett who only held the position for 55 hours. Sam Altman and his cofounder or everyone monitoring the situation. This seemed so chaotic and clearly was very reactive. And it’s a perfect case study to look at and assess how quick decisions, maybe rash decisions, or at least emotionally driven decisions that may be coming from a place of fear, anger, resentment, lack of control, lack of trust, suspicion. What that can cause, that ripple effect that can be created if we’re not able to get a hold on it.

Ramona Shaw [00:02:49]:

So the reactivity really sort of that quick response to someone else’s activity versus a deliberate response or proactivity it’s the villain here and the thing that we have to pay attention to. Because we as human beings, we’re not rational beings. We are emotionally driven. And when we don’t get a grasp on our own emotions and we recognize as we’re in it that we’re being reactive and the things, the thoughts, or the ideas, or the instincts that take over, that those are not coming from a logical good place, but they’re coming from that place of emotions and we can’t recognize it and pause and say hold on a second. I’m not pursuing that path yet. I’m gonna take a step back. We have to talk about this more. We have to be more deliberate.

Ramona Shaw [00:03:39]:

Let’s slow it down. It’s not the moment to be fast acting. This is the moment to think it through and to recognize what will the consequences be of such decision or such an action. When leaders lead with reactivity, activity. The ripple effect is tremendous because not only does it impact all their responsibilities, but also makes everyone on their team reactive. Let’s say if you have a team of 20 people and you have 4 direct reports and 2 of those direct reports. I have a team of 9, and the team of 9 also has some supervisors in there. Each of them may have 1 or 2 supervisors.

Ramona Shaw [00:04:22]:

So they’re just your line from you downwards. There’s 2 more layers of, let’s say, management or management roles. If you are reactive and you walk into the office on a Monday morning and you say, like, oh my gosh, I thought about this on my drive to work today, we have to change, that campaign and turn it around. And instead of talking about x, we’re gonna talk about why that kind of sentiment or change in course, even though it feels to you like, oh, this is a way better decision, this is gonna create a better better result, is now making everyone down the line reactive. So you say that to one of your managers. That manager is not talking to the supervisor of said team or of they affect the team, and now that supervisor is reactive and passing that onto their team members. The team members now see their direct supervisor as reactive. They may also see the supervisor’s manager as reactive, and it creates this culture of constant stress and constant reactivity, often leading to decisions having to be undone or work having to be undone or work having to be scratched completely because people didn’t think it through.

Ramona Shaw [00:05:38]:

They didn’t look at, hey, what’s actually the problem we have to solve. Now before I go any further, there is a moment in time where reactivity is the right course of action. You find yourself in a situation where maybe you’re talking to a client and client mentions a problem that they have. And so you recognize this is a moment where I have to deviate from what I had planned to talk about with that plan to address that specific problem with them and lean into learning more about it and see how you can potentially solve it or address it. So that is a good reactive response, or you may have someone on your team who is saying that they’re quitting. They’re a high you don’t wanna lose them. You probably drop everything you got to speak with them and see, is there a way for them to reconsider their decision? So you’re being highly reactive in those moments, and that is a deliberate reactivity. The problem with reactivity is only when it turns into a default response.

Ramona Shaw [00:06:41]:

When whatever comes your desk, whatever happens at the higher level, hierarchically speaking, or whatever happens on your team, any bugs or any glitches or errors that happen, your default response is not hold on. Does this matter? Does this need to be dealt with right now? Is this really important? Is this relevant for my level or should someone else get involved here? You’re not having these kind of reflective thoughts before you decide. Instead you’re immediately reacting to it and jumping in, that is when it gets problematic. At the moment, when you do this, it seems like the right decision. We all think we’re doing the right things in the moment as we’re doing them. Maybe a minute later or a day later or a year later, we we see it differently. But in the moment, it makes sense. The ripple effect though, the negative ripple effect it has on everyone else and, their reputation that you’re building likely one of inconsistency or one of, like, the fire drills, the parachuting in and then parachuting back out, all those kind of labels, those will hurt in the longer term, and they’re just not worth it.

Ramona Shaw [00:07:54]:

It erodes trust, and it often frustrates the the heck out of people when we have leaders who are reactive. So recognizing that this is happening, taking a step back to look at, is this a default response? And if so, what should be the questions I ask myself to recognize what happens and become more conscious about it. And so in order to help you with this, I wanna share a few behaviors that would indicate to me as an outside coach that my client maybe by default, demonstrating too much reactivity versus response and proactivity. I got 6 examples here that I’m gonna walk you through. I hope that as I’m going through, you’re really listening to what may be some of those things that you’ve seen yourself do or maybe that you see other people do, and then that’d be good to bring up with them. Or maybe you see other people on your team do, and it would serve you both well to have a conversation about it. As a caring and driven manager, I know you want to strengthen your leadership skills, advance your career, and lead a high performing engaged team. In order to do that as a leader, you need to lead with a system, not by shooting from your hips or reacting to everyone else around you.

Ramona Shaw [00:09:14]:

To do so, you need to, 1st, learn what should go into a leadership system, and 2nd, develop your own. Now the good news is that I teach you one must have part in your leadership system in a concise, actionable, and yet comprehensive course focused on running successful 1 on 1 meetings with your diarach reports. It includes over 67 minutes of tactical leadership training plus a set of resources to make this as easy and immediately applicable for you as possible. You can either watch the video lessons or listen to it through a private podcast feed on your phone. You can get your hands on this course, which I want every single manager to have, for a nominal $19 at ramonashaw.com/oneone. That’s 2 times the number one. You can check the show notes for the details or head on over to ramunashaw.com/11 to get started right now. The first example here that shows a pattern of reactivity is when you become impatient and demanding when people resist a change a a new approach.

Ramona Shaw [00:10:26]:

I see this often when people get frustrated, like, why can’t they just get on with it? Why do we still talk about it? Just get to work. That is the sense of, like, trying to push through when the other party is not ready to push through. So instead, you’re pushing as a reaction to their resistance. And that usually doesn’t pan out, just creates more resistance. So instead of meeting the resistance with pushing more, you have to take a break and inquire about the resistance. Look at how can we remove the resistance without me pushing more in the 1st place. So that would be one indication. Another one is to give up or to give in way too fast when someone else challenges your opinion.

Ramona Shaw [00:11:17]:

So when you have an idea or you have an opinion about a project or a strategy or some kind of change you want to implement and someone else challenges you could be from within your team, could be a peer, could be from senior leaders in the organization. But if they push back and challenge you and you don’t show up with some stamina to defend and advocate for your opinion, then that is another sign and indication that you’re reactive. You’re reactively changing course or dropping your idea or project because of someone else’s opinion. The response to this would be to inquire more to try to understand better. Sometimes, of course, we change our opinion. Someone else said, no. That’s a bad idea because x, y, z, and you realize, oh, I did not think about x, y, z. You’re right.

Ramona Shaw [00:12:09]:

My idea wasn’t the best. We do have to stay course with what we had planned so far, or let me go back to the drawing board and come up with a better plan. That, of course, is valid. But if someone pushes back on what you’re saying, but it’s not found it or it doesn’t actually change your opinion, you just feel like you don’t wanna pick up that argument or you need to listen to what someone else is saying until you’re giving up or you’re giving in, that will be reactive. Next example is in the decision making process, when you look for information, you keep trying to find more and more information to avoid making a decision with incomplete data at hand or when you have competing interests. The endless gathering of information is almost a way to procrastinate. Now sometimes, the procrastination is actually useful. This is one of the moments where you do wanna slow the decision making process down, but not if this is time sensitive.

Ramona Shaw [00:13:17]:

In a situation where you have to make a quick decision because delaying the decision will increase the cost or erode the benefits of the decision, then that’s not going to work out well. So the reactiveness here is to the fear of making a wrong decision and you’re trying to gather more and more information. Again, will be reactive. Next one is a good one. This is one that I have to definitely watch out for myself. It’s when a request or a question comes in and you tend to immediately respond. Could be answering a question. It could be delegating the work.

Ramona Shaw [00:13:52]:

It could be immediately incorporating it into your planning process or or weekly or daily prioritization without pausing and just question whether or not this task should be done by you or should be done by your team, should be done the way that it was supposed to be done, or if there’s a better way and whether it should be done at all or if it doesn’t fit strategic direction or even the current prioritization, and it needs to be deprioritized. So if you’re constantly reacting to everyone’s incoming requests or demands without being able to discern what you should pursue, what you should ignore or reject, you’re demonstrating reactivity. And chances are really high that your team will be able to tell as well. So the discernment is really important considering strategic context in any other important context that will allow you to decide what should be done and how this incoming demand or request should be handled. Okay, next up. This is, I think, 5th. Fixing problems without understanding and addressing the root cause. So let’s say you have on a regular basis, you notice typos or errors in a spreadsheet or you notice a glitch in the system.

Ramona Shaw [00:15:15]:

And every time this happens, you address the immediate situation, even with people, by the way. If you notice someone comes late to a meeting or isn’t fully prepared and you’re giving feedback to that particular situation, trying to resolve that particular bug, but you’re not taking a step back maybe because you either don’t know how, we don’t have enough information to do so, or don’t feel like you have the time in the day to take a step back and ask yourself, what’s the root cause of this? And can should this root cause be fixed? Or are there even better ways to do the work or to program or or to write the code or whatever it might be that will prohibit this issue from coming up at all in the future. So I’m not just trying to fix that particular bug, but I’m also taking a step back and look at how can I remove this whole thing in the future? Or should I tolerate a certain degree of mistakes or errors because preventing them would be too time consuming or would would turn into a poor risk benefit analysis. So taking a step back, that will be the appropriate thing to do. It would allow you to look at your work, scope of work on your team in a with a proactive perspective versus reacting to all kinds of of problems as and when they come in. And on that note, I’m gonna move to our last one, last example here, which is to not anticipate risks in the future mitigate them proactively. So a perfect example would be to not anticipate that someone on your team could leave. And if you’re in the US with contracts where someone can leave at will, they could literally walk out on Monday and not return to work.

Ramona Shaw [00:17:10]:

That is a risk of every leader who’s exposed to, well, contracts has to anticipate and know what am I going to do. Now you might have different employment contracts or legal context that you work within, but that’s just one example. Anticipate those risks in terms of the work that you do and resources that you manage, budget, people, all of that. Someone could go on sick leave. Someone could go on maternity or paternity leave. All kinds of things happen all the time. Will you be able to manage, or will you be flustered and completely reactive to the situation when it happens. So anticipating risks in the future and, of course, with opportunities as well.

Ramona Shaw [00:17:53]:

And then, you know, mitigating the risks, leveraging opportunities so that you are perceived as someone who has some thought leadership, who has some strategic thinking, someone who’s thinking ahead and not reacting to the day today. That in itself, is a a whole other conversation that we could pursue here. I’m gonna save this for another time. But strategic thinking and leveling up and building out, organizing your day to day responsibilities so that you do have time to address what is not urgent, but it will be crucial for you to level up in your leadership career. Now that is not always possible day 1 right away. But if not, build a plan so that you get there within the next 3 to 6 months. That is usually in all the cases of ever supported leaders in doing so. The 3 to 6 month plan is that first phase in order to reorganize totally doable to get to the place where you can carve out enough time to move into a strategic role.

Ramona Shaw [00:18:58]:

I’m gonna quickly recap those. So the examples that I highlighted here is becoming too impatient and demanding when people are resisting change or new things, giving up or giving in too fast, too easily when someone else challenges your opinion or your position, seeking information and procrastinating on decisions when there’s competing data or interest. Responding to all requests without considering the strategic or broader strategic context or broader picture, fixing problems without understanding and addressing the root cause. And last but not least, not anticipating risks in the future or mitigating them proactively. Same, applies to opportunities and how to leverage them in the future. These were examples of how reactivity in leadership shows up. It’s not a conclusive list. There’s a lot more to them.

Ramona Shaw [00:19:49]:

They’re all just indicators. But I hope by me listing some of these examples that often show up in coaching conversations or in conversations in our group programs, the leadership accelerator, or the leadership advisory, where small groups of leaders have conversations about what’s going on and support each other through these challenges, these kind of topics come up and or signals that there may be too strong of a focus on reactivity. And we, by the way, can all fall into these traps. We might feel really productive. 2023 and 2024, something happens, and all of a sudden we find ourselves in a series of, reactive weeks or reactive months. And then we have to recognize that we’re doing it and just get ourselves slowly out of it by changing patterns or behaviors that are starting to form. Again, it all starts with becoming aware that there’s an issue or there is a a potential risk on the horizon. Or maybe you just see this in someone else and they would serve you and them well to talk about what would be a proactive approach, what would be a more deliberate response versus an emotional or short term reactive approach.

Ramona Shaw [00:21:02]:

I hope this was insightful to you. If you’re interested in leadership coaching to address your specific situation here or wanna learn more about our leadership programs, check out the show notes or head on over to Ramona Shaw .com for more information. I wish you a great week, and I’ll talk to you again, I believe, of a couple more weeks before we go on our winter break. So I’ll see you then. Talk soon. Bye bye. If you enjoyed this episode, then check out 2 other awesome resources to help you become a leader people love to work with. This includes my best selling book, The Confident and Competent New Manager, which you can find on Amazon or@ramonasha.com/book and a free training on how to successfully lead as a new manager.

Ramona Shaw [00:21:47]:

You check it out at ramona shaw.com/masterclass. These resources and a couple more, you’ll find in the show notes down below.


  1. Reflect on a time when a leader’s reactive behavior influenced the team culture. How did it manifest, and what were the consequences (individually, on the team, on the organization)?
  2. Reflect on a recent situation where you might have reacted impulsively. What emotions were at play, and how did it influence your decision-making?
  3. Are there any proactive decision-making skills or strategies that you’ve witnessed, admired, or experienced previously in your career?
  4. What strategies can you implement to mitigate reactivity in your decision-making process? Write down a plan with steps you can take to personally enhance your proactive decision-making skills.
  5. What strategies come to mind that you can implement on your team to create a culture that encourages thoughtful decision-making over impulsive reactions?


  • Learn how to turn your 1-on-1 meetings from time wasters, awkward moments, status updates, or non-existent into your most important and valuable meeting with your directs all week. Access the course and resources here: ramonashaw.com/11
  • Have a question or topic you’d like Ramona to address on a future episode? Fill out this form to submit it for her review: https://ramonashaw.com/ama



Grab your copy of Ramona’s best-selling book ‘The Confident & Competent New Manager: How to Rapidly Rise to Success in Your First Leadership Role’: amzn.to/3TuOdcP

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