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Does Leading Your Business Require a Fire Hat?

Fire ExtinguisherIf it’s one thing I hear from business owners and leaders all the time, it’s that they’re busy. While “busy” is, for some of us, a badge of honor, for most of us it’s just reality. And despite being in leadership, being our own boss, or at least having quite a bit of latitude, we start to feel like our business holds us hostage. We can’t get away because of how busy we are.

In fact, despite the fact that we often want to get away, we find ourselves more in the role of crisis manager than anything else. We often find ourselves running around putting out fires.

“Dave dropped the ball.”

“This customer says the new product failed when they installed it. What do we want to do?”

“We keep missing deadlines and customers are going elsewhere.”

“We have a revolving door at the administrative assistant position in accounting.”

“The pipe froze and our tenant’s space is flooded.”

“The contractor didn’t show up.”

“We missed our sales numbers three months in a row. What should we try next?”

And there are other things we would rather be doing.

When it comes down to it, a lot of the busy-ness we experience comes from all the organizational firefighting we are doing. By always being in response mode, we not only jump anytime we are needed, but we condition our organizations that that’s how we actually want things to go. Our crisis manager role makes it hard for us to even think strategically about what we want to be doing and what we should be doing – and ways we can make life easier on ourselves, make more money, and have happier employees and customers.

Many of us are resigned to saying, “This is just how business is.” But that really still doesn’t feel good. In fact, it feels soul-sucking and draining, doesn’t it?

Is that how we want to live? Really?

There is something we can do about it.

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Leaders who resolve their firefighting, and get to a place where things are both running smoothly and are still exciting, find that these firefighting situations often involve one or more of the following:

  • Unclear process (what do we do in this situation?)
  • Unclear standards (what is good, excellent, insufficient?)
  • Lack of permission (we can’t act because we don’t have [or don’t think we have] authorization, so we have to ask someone else)
  • No planning margin (no time to plan, just react!)
  • Wrong skill applied (when all you have is a hammer… everything looks like a nail)
  • Role confusion (what’s my job? What’s their job?)
  • Crisis culture (everything is an emergency, everything is a priority, so nothing is a priority)

Rarely, but sometimes, they involve the things our minds jump to more readily: fraud, incompetence, laziness, greed, stupidity. But not usually.

Resolving these things often involves bringing in outside eyes – those who can look at what of these underlying issues might be at work beneath the firefighting. Usually there is some combination of those seven main things. A process consultant, like our team at the L M Thomas Group, can walk alongside leaders to help uncover the underlying challenges and resolve them so that being busy isn’t oppressive anymore – and you and your organization can thrive!

When the call comes in to the firehouse, the crew doesn't run around trying to find the truck, figuring out who is going to drive it, and determining what equipment they might need to take with them. Before the call comes, they have trained, worked out procedure, and prepared so that when it is time, they can respond quickly, intentionally, and free of anxiety so they can execute well on the job they are to do.

And that is how our businesses can run.

Feel like you’re in firefighting mode? Want to get out? Tell me your story in the comments!



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Matthew M. Thomas

Matthew M. Thomas, EPC, is the President of the L M Thomas Group.

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