On Not Fighting Fires

There is a particular disposition some people possess that causes them to shift their focus, regardless of their role, from proactive to reactive. There are all sorts of benefits for holding this disposition, many of which are psychological, including solving problems, creating value for others, doing exciting work, receiving praise and recognition, and constant variety. The disposition is one of being a firefighter.

The firefighter is called to put down a blaze that, left unaddressed, would cause some harm, great or small. The firefighter prides themselves on their ability to put out the fire, occasionally stomping out the fire, but more often than not leaving the burning embers to reignite another conflagration. After fighting the fire, the firefighter waits patiently for the next emergency, so she can rush into action, an act she continuously repeats.

You can become addicted to fighting fires, and when you do, you will almost certainly have given up doing the proactive work necessary for producing the outcomes you are charged with delivering. How could one possibly find time to do their job when all these fires require your attention?

Those adept at fighting back the inferno, large or small, will always find others with fires who request their aid, eliminating or resolving their challenge. Surely no one could extinguish the dumpster fire of their making without the firefighter.

Between urgencies and emergencies, there is no time for any proactive work, least of all the kind that would prevent the fires from occurring in the first place, like clearing the brush that creates an environment conducive to fire. There are no processes put in place to prevent systemic and recurring problems, nor is there training others to solve the day-to-day challenges of their role.

One can become addicted to fighting fires, leaving their real work undone, living in a reactive mode, stressed out, and unproductive. They have unmet commitments, unfinished important work, and missed goals.

When something is on fire, put it out. Then, do the work to eliminate future fires and train others to put out fires themselves. But don’t let your real work suffer because you are addicted to fighting fires, not as a salesperson, not as a manager, and not as a leader.

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Filed under: Productivity

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