Categories: Insights

Are the leaders in our businesses the right people for putting out fires and addressing emergency situations? For me the answer is clearly no, this is why:

Leaders Don't Put Out Fires, They Prevent Them

Great firefighters can be leaders, leading their teams of firefighters to put out fires. However most of us don’t have to deal with quite such intense situations as a real fire, it is simply a metaphor.

For most of us, the phrase “putting out fires” refers to a crisis situation rather than actually dowsing flames, saving lives and property. The reality is that our “crisis situation” is unlikely to be as serious as the phrase suggests. However people, especially business leaders, often still act and behave like it is.

Leaders in the business world often feel it is necessary to take over and solve urgent situations that threaten their business. It is a natural reaction to protect what is important to them and as leaders they naturally feel a need to be in control. I believe this is not a sensible approach though and will create two perpetually occurring problems.

1. Staff Dependency Creation

If leaders are constantly fighting and putting out every fire that occurs they are inadvertently saying two things to their teams “when there is a fire come and get me” and “your job is to find problems for me to solve”.

Indeed it is likely that the leaders of a business are great at dealing with a crisis, it’s probably what got them to be in a leadership position in the first place.

Nevertheless if the leaders are the ones putting out the fires, they are simply teaching their teams to go to them in an emergency rather than deal with it themselves.

If the teams within a business know this option is available to them, they will keep repeating this behaviour as it is a much easier option.

2. Stun Staff Development

Like I said before, it is likely that business leaders are usually good at putting out fires. The likelihood is that they are good at this because someone gave them the opportunity to get good at it.

As leaders they should extend the opportunity they had to their teams by preparing them with the right experience to succeed at putting out fires. If leaders continually put out fires themselves they are actually not fulfilling their role as a leader. Instead they should allow their teams to deal with the urgent, and learn from their mistakes.

It is easy for leaders to focus on the urgent, but when leaders are busy with the urgent, there is little time left to deal with solving problems and moving a business forward. At some point a leader needs to think about the big picture and stop running around dealing with spot fires. If they don’t stop to strategise, all they will ever do is keep having to put out fires.

I am not saying that leaders should NEVER put out fires; there will be times where a leaders knowledge and experience are required. What I am saying is these skills should be saved for a real crisis and not the daily or weekly urgent situations.

What leaders should be focused on and what their job actually entails as leaders is fire prevention. Leaders should be creating a business where no fires (or very few at least) occur, thus allowing their teams to also focus on the important mission and goals of the business.

If you are a leader and you spend your time putting out fires, I believe this is all you will ever do. You need to put your flame-retardant suit away and allow your teams to learn to deal with urgent situations.

Your job is fire prevention and you should be spending most of your time working on this. Otherwise nothing will ever improve, in fact it will likely get worse as you will not be able to attend all the fires. Your team will not know what to do and eventually everything around you will burn to the ground!

The most successful business leaders are not firefighters, they are fire-preventers.

At Media Heroes, we know running a business is super tough and entrepreneurs face potential fire fighting situations every day. While we can’t help you with every challenge you might face on your entrepreneurial journey, we’re always here to super-power your digital marketing strategy, so whenever you feel you need some, reach out and get in touch!

Alistair Roberts :