Leaders Fight Fires, Not Start Them.

Originally published on LinkedIn – October 12, 2015

Are you busy? Got a lot on your plate? Feel like there isn’t enough time in the day? Sure, I think we’ve all been there.

In this world of increasing activity, work is no different. Things are moving quickly leading to more and more and more important ‘stuff’ to do.  In fact, it’s to a point where everything’s important.  And when everything is important, nothing is important.


It’s a Fire!

With so much going on, there are bound to be some emergencies. Some Fires.

Now I’m not talking about bankruptcy, natural disaster, public relations nightmare kinds of fires. Those fires should be fought with all urgency.

I’m talking about the last minute we need to do this, change this, pull this back, push this forward, clarify, re-clarify kinds of errors that exist in business. It could be logistics, operations, marketing, pricing, products….well, anything really. But whatever it is, someone thinks it is the most important thing and it must happen now.

How many times in the last week has someone told you that something has to happen immediately?

I’m guessing it’s a few.

Did you fight the fire? Were you the one to calm the situation, find a solution and put out the fire? I hope you were.


Did you fan the flames? Did you get caught up in the reactionary emotion of it all? Did you make immediate demands and cause panic around you? Worse yet, did you start this fire?

 I know I’m guilty of it.

Being a reactionary leader and allowing emotion to rule will contribute to a sense of panic and frustration. It is an emotional drain on you and those around you. As an emotional and expressive leader, I can easily fall in this camp and for me, it’s a serious watch point.

A constant barrage of urgency leads to breakdown in culture and burn out of associates. I have to remind myself that we aren’t curing cancer. Maybe you are curing cancer, and if so, by all means, execute with all urgency. But I am not curing cancer. I am very proud of the work I do whether I do it for myself or for my employer. But if mistakes are made, people are not dying.

Sometimes things are urgent. Sometimes things take priority. Sometimes you need to act as soon as possible. But if that is how you feel every day, you might consider these tips.


Yeah, it’s not rocket science. You’ve heard the quote, “Failure to plan on your part does not necessarily constitute an emergency on my part.” Well, the problem is, sometimes it does. Don’t be the unnecessary cause of emergencies. Project teams should have agreed upon project plans, including a process for handling unexpected emergencies. In doing so, execute the plan and don’t get frazzled when something unexpected happens. In your plan, mark who is responsible for what action and keep a detailed list of responsibilities and calendar of when to execute.

Assess Impact

The first thing I do when an “emergency” is brought to me is examine. What’s the impact? Is this impacting our customers? Is this impacting our associates? Our shareholders? The general public? How many people? What’s the trend? What if we do nothing? What are the options? Does this need resolution need to happen now or do we need to wait for more information. I can’t tell you how many mistakes are avoided and corrections dodged by simply giving a problem an hour buffer to understand what if anything needs to be done.

Trust and Delegate

Many emergencies in business come from a breakdown in communication and trust. If a fire erupts my first question is, “Who is the owner?” Businesses are sectioned into functional areas to capitalize on extremely smart individuals contributing to the business. If there is a problem, start with the person who knows the most about that problem. If that person is you, get to work. But if it is not you, trust in the company and the person who is tasked with that area of the business.


Did you figure out the owner? Good. Now who else can help? Get the right people together to have a holistic picture of the problem. Doing so builds relationships and ensures that the solution considers all impacts of the problem. Solving in a silo can be worse than the original problem. In times like these, if the situation is truly serious, I am a fan of the “war room” concept. Get a conference room and start inviting people to the war room. It’s amazing how fast decisions can be made and executed when everyone is sitting and working together.

Don’t get caught up in the swirl

If you come across a business emergency, be part of the solution, not the problem. Don’t through your hands up in the air and feed the fire with an “I told you so” or a “Oh great, another one” mentality. You are a leader, you fight the fires. Rally your team and your peers and say, ‘Looks like we have some work to do, but let’s fight this fire together and make it right for our company and our customers’.


Feedback is love so please comment, critique, like and share.

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