Why ‘Putting Out the Fire’ only adds fuel to the flames…

extinguisher_by_caroro-d5r7i07Do you work with one of those managers that just absolutely relishes in the fact that they are just the greatest at putting out the proverbial “fire” in the workplace?  You know, the guy that gets pulled out of the boardroom when the “alarms” go off and he slides down a pole and sets out to rescue the helpless citizens of his local village.  Some even take pride in these feats.  In some instances, you’d think that they sabotage the front line staff just to be able to play “hero” to come and “save the day”!  In a way, that is exactly what is happening.  (OK maybe its not quite so deliberate).  I just don’t get it.  I come from the school of thought that Smokey Bear instilled in many of us when we were  younger:  “Only YOU can prevent wildfires…”  Isn’t this the goal?  Isn’t this what we strive for? Preventing or averting problems before they arise.

I’ve witnessed it far too often and it appears that the manager or department head is so caught up in this vicious cycle that they begin to believe that they are doing what they are “supposed” to be doing.  That this is what “management” is all about.  There is never enough time (or energy for that matter) to build better processes or to get to the root cause of the problems that inevitably rear their ugly heads over and over again.  These managers seem to never stop and take a giant leap back to see the whole picture.  Executive leadership often propagates this cycle as their main goal is often to steer clear of any 4 alarm fires that rage out of control.  As long as the flames are doused before they reach the “C Suite” then its “mission accomplished”.  But often times when you don’t see the flames, there is something smoldering beneath…

So often do I attempt to point out that these “fires” are symptoms of a greater problem.  That the “fix” is usually just a BandAid on the much larger wound that will inevitably come as a result of covering up the small wounds.  Even when these symptoms seem completely unrelated, they often have at their roots some commonality that can be traced back to a specific process that is broken (or sometimes non-existent).

But alas, there is hope…The astute manager realizes this after the first few attempts at putting out the fire and steps back.  She realizes that there must be something else going on here…And it is this realization, at this point in time, where a new flame is ignited.  A flame that should never be doused; a flame that should be allowed to burn quite controllably within.  It is the burning that lives within so many of us…a burning that lives within those who want to “right the wrongs”.  To get their hands on the deep rooted issues and cultural norms that repeatedly drive organizations off course.  It is the spark that has ignited the Leader within…The Leader that knows that the true power that they possess is not in “saving the day”, but rather it is in building relationships and teams that see the bigger picture.  A Leader that quietly helps others to perform better and inspires the next generation of Leaders who will prevent the fires and learn methods to get to the root cause of the problems that continually resurface.

I hope that you enjoyed this quick read and that it inspires you to help someone take a step back and look at the larger picture while on the front lines putting out fires.  Maybe you can even help them spark the blaze within them to seek the path of the true Leader.  The Leader that knows how to prevent those wildfires from igniting in the first place.  Thank you again for taking the time to read and share this post.  Have a great day and do great things.

Michael Scicchitano


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