I’ve worked with well-meaning, highly-principled leaders for years. When the topic of coaching and developing their employees comes up, I often hear that they know coaching is important, 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.
No one I’ve ever talked to admitted to liking the fires at work. They put urgency and stress into our days. They put us in a position of solving a problem that in many cases we didn’t even know existed. And because of the urgency, often the problems are averted (or minimized), but the root cause never is addressed – meaning 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 and with some coaching and development the fires can be owned by others. Then you will 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. 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. If you do find yourself enjoying firefighting, think about dropping the energy and enjoyment you get from these situations and refocusing your energy to coaching and development. Drop!
Role – You must remember 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.