Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Leadership

How to Move Out of the "Fire-Fighting" Mode of Leadership

Do you ever feel that you are running around in circles, spending most of your time putting out fires? Running about in the reactive mode of “fire-fighting” creates several problems.

1. The system controls you. One of the most important aspects of leadership is to be proactive in looking at issues that need to be improved. When you find yourself in a fire-fighting mode, you’re constantly running from one crisis to another, putting a Band-Aid on each crisis, and then moving on to the next issue that has risen to the top.

2. There is a lack of strategy. When you are consistently in a responsive mode, there is lack of attention to a consistent plan that honors and focuses on customers, internal and external.

3. You experience stress and frustration. It is extremely frustrating to live in the fire-fighting mode. The habitual pattern of responding to alarms keeps the body in the “fight or flight” response. Unrelenting stress can be exhausting and can ultimately impact your mental and physical health.

4. Putting out one fire has an impact on the rest of the system. You may have experienced the fact that sometimes when you fix one thing, it negatively affects other areas. This is because everything in a system is connected. Furthermore, you may not even realize the connection between the two things. All you know is, now there is another fire to be put out.

Fire Prevention, a Better Approach

You will never arrive at the point where you never have to respond to emergencies. However, you can minimize their occurrence by working to prevent them. These suggestions may be helpful in your effort to do that.

1. Study the “fires” to determine patterns and root causes. The occasional occurrence of a problem is to be expected. However, when there begin to be patterns, it’s time to investigate the underlying cause. That way, you have the information you need to take actions that can make a real difference in preventing the pattern from recurring.

2. Fix the system, not the symptom. As we discussed earlier, all aspects of the system are connected. Therefore, a symptom in one area of the system may be indicative of a root cause in a distant part of the system. Include people representing various phases of the delivery system in a team that examines the systemic connections and formulates solutions that take that into account.

3. Be proactive rather than reactive. Fire-fighters are reactive; fire-preventors are proactive. They take an overall problem-solving approach that does not wait for an emergency to occur. Rather, they are constantly aware of ways the system can be improved.

4. Utilize the resources of the entire team. The system is much healthier when there is input from all the people who have knowledge of different aspects of it. This helps you to move away from a model in which one or two hero fire-fighters are the problem solvers in the system.

Preventative approaches are less labor intensive and disruptive than fire fighting. Prevention rather than treatment after something has gotten out of control is a much better plan. It decreases crises that demand time, energy, and immediate problem solving.

One Final Caution

We’ve contrasted fire-fighting with fire prevention. However, I must add a comment of one seminar participant who said, “My boss is not a fire fighter or a fire preventer. He’s an arsonist!”

Ask yourself, “Are there some ways in which I am actually the arsonist in the system?”

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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