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Reactive vs. Proactive

Too many operations manage by crisis instead of systematically learning and implementing changes. Today, I’m going to look into the two different mindsets of leading an organization: Reactive versus Proactive.


Proactive Chad Counselman
Chad Counselman


A proactive leader is always looking to improve his or her operation. There is a constant yearning to learn something new and implement it. This type of person is probably a reader that reads several books per year – or listens to them (that’s what I do). There are two major components to being a Proactive Leader: Learning and Doing.


There are several ways to learn new ideas. I’ve already touched on reading. Don’t think that you have to read books or articles that are specific to our industry – any leadership or management material contains ideas that could be adapted to fit the Automotive Recycling Industry. The idea here is to constantly be trying to learn something from anything that you read. Figure ways to adapt ideas or suggestions to your operation. There is a nugget of gold in almost everything that you read these days. Look for it, find it, adapt it, deploy it.

Another way to learn how to make improvements is to visit a fellow Recycler’s Site – anywhere. When you are heading out on vacation, do a little research and find a recycler in the area where you will be travelling. If you don’t travel much, call a fellow recycler in your area and ask to come visit them at their site. Offer to reciprocate the invitation and allow them to visit your site. You can always learn something from visiting another Recycler’s facility.

After visiting well over 100 sites, I can testify to learning from others. I take a huge number of pictures at every site that I visit – I took 400 pictures at one site in Texas last month. Bring the pictures and ideas back to your team and discuss things that others are doing differently than you. If you can’t devote the time to travel and visiting other sites, enroll in the Mentor Program at ARA and find a recycler that will pour into you over the phone. Be open and willing to listen. This industry is full of great people – people that will literally give you the shirt off their back. I just heard of a pair of owners that flew across the country on their own dime to help a fellow recycler that was struggling. If you don’t ask, you won’t get the help that you need.

If you are unwilling to read, visit other sites, or share ideas over the phone with another recycler, then you should at least hire a professional to visit your site and make recommendations to you. The point is that you must open your eyes to other ideas and listen to things that others are doing. You should never stop trying to learn. I’ve heard it said and I agree completely, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” You should never have the notion that you are smarter than others – you should always be learning.


It’s one thing to learn new ideas, new techniques, new software, etc. But learning is not enough – you must ACT on the knowledge that you gain. Once you learn from others, implement the changes. Make it happen at your operation. Take the risk. Go for it. I learned something years ago: You must begin the plans to implement changes within 5 days of learning about them, otherwise you will get sucked back in and fail to do anything with the information that you learned. You must take action in a timely manner.


The EPA walked in to your facility today and just asked your manager for the facility’s SPCC Plan. Not only do you not have one on file, but your manager didn’t know what an SPCC Plan was, neither do you – and you just got a fine for $32,000 with the knowledge that you will be fined another $32,000 tomorrow and every day after that you do not have an SPCC Plan in place.

You are now in the middle of a crisis – a crisis of epic proportions.

What are you going to do? You are going to Google the words ‘SPCC Plan’, you will find a local provider that can help you set up a plan, and you are going to hire them for $10,000 to solve this problem for you. This is what I call ‘Managing by Crisis’.

This was just one example of many events that could occur at your facility today that could become a crisis because you are not prepared for them. What’s bad is the fact that you had never even heard of an SPCC Plan (If you haven’t, you better be Google-ing it right now). I heard an explanation of knowledge a while back: There are three kinds of knowledge:
     Things you Know
     Things you Know that you don’t know. (How to do brain surgery)
     Things you don’t Know that you don’t know. (What an SPCC Plan is)

When you are forced to be Reactive to an event, you typically spend more money and do it hastily without much thought. You end up with an inferior product that you paid a higher price for. The point is: It is cheaper and better to plan for events, than to be forced into handling them when they occur. It’s like carrying a spare tire in your trunk – that is a better option than waiting for a flat to occur and having to call a tow truck.


Constantly Seek Knowledge and Implement Changes in a timely manner. Learn from others – about things that you don’t currently know about. I know I twisted this to be about an EPA Fine, but other things could be costing you more because you allowed them to occur for years without even knowing that there is a better solution. Get engaged. Learn something. Do something.

Chad Counselman