By Kevin Eikenberry

I’ve worked with well-meaning, highly-principled leaders for years. When I talked to these leaders about coaching and developing their team, I kept hearing that, although they know that coaching and developing their team is important, there are too many things that get in the way. They want to coach more, but they don’t have time because they are too busy “putting out fires.”

As children, we learn that if we are ever in a fire and our clothing catches on fire, we should “stop, drop and roll.” By dropping to the floor and rolling around, we snuff out the flames and solve the immediate problem.

The more I hear the phrase “putting out fires” from managers and leaders, the more I think this simple firefighting advice applies to leaders, too.

The Fires

So no one I have talked ever said that they like these fires at work. These fires cause extreme urgency and add stress into our days. Often, we don’t even realize that we have the problem until it pops up.  And because of the urgency, the problems are averted (or minimized). However, the root cause never is addressed, which means that you fight the same fire over and over again!

And while no one admits to liking firefighting, I believe that at least unconsciously some people actually do like the firefighting. It provides an adrenalin rush and perhaps even provides more short term job satisfaction as well.

Stop, Drop and Role

Assuming that you really don’t want to deal with the fires (if you secretly like that work, perhaps you should re-consider carefully your role as a leader – read on as a part of that reflection), there are three steps that will help you fight the fires and find more time to coach and develop your team – which was the initial concern! Those steps closely reflect the firefighter’s mantra: stop, drop and role.

  • Stop – You must stop fighting all the fires. Recognize that as a leader, the fires don’t all belong to you. With some coaching and development, the fires can be owned by others, and you will then have time to work with your team members to do fire prevention. Start considering fires as an opportunity for coaching and development. Does this mean you will never roll up your sleeves and help? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that if you are dealing with all of the fires, you can’t do the work you are truly paid to do. So… Stop!
  • Drop – You must drop the fire, and hand it off to someone else. In the moment, you might have to help, but your help should be done consultatively so that as you are helping fight the fire, you are preparing someone else to fight (or prevent it) next time. So what to do if you find yourself enjoying firefighting? Try thinking about dropping the energy and enjoyment you get from these situations and refocusing your energy to coaching and development. Drop!
  • Role – Know your role. As a leader, your role is to develop others. As you invest this time, you are providing others the opportunity to put out the fires. You are developing their skills to manage their work more effectively. And by investing the time to coach, you are creating more time to do it more frequently and more effectively in the future. Remember your role!

If you find yourself putting out fires that are keeping you from doing the less urgent but more important things like coaching and training, consider the advice of firemen – who know fires best after all.

Stop, drop, and role!

Potential Principle – As a leader you must focus on important things like developing your people, not just the urgent things that pop up each day.

Looking for more information on how to lead and communicate with your team? Check out Bud to Boss workshops.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}