If you’re paid to be a firefighter, then it’s fine to spend all day fighting fires.

But if you’re actually paid to plan strategies, define goals and objectives, think of ways to improve how you operate, and provide coaching and support so people around you grow and develop – then what on earth are you doing fighting so many fires?

Being a firefighter is very seductive. You get to live in the limelight, save the day, be a hero, receive accolades and feel good. It comes with advantages. You’re not expected to complete boring reports and attend to the admin. In fact if you keep moving fast enough ‘Must rush – sorry - I’ve a crisis on my hands!’ you can get away with murder. You’ll also be forgiven for taking some slack time between fires, ‘Give her a break. You should have seen how she coped in that last crisis!’

But like everything else, there’s a dark side to it. Firefighting is reactive. Firefighters mostly follow tried and tested procedures. There’s little time to stop, review, rethink, try something different. ‘We’ll try that next time. Right now, there’s a crisis!’

When you’re under pressure you give instructions and you expect obedience. ‘There’s no time to talk about it. Just do what I say. This is a crisis!’

And then there’s the adrenaline rush to which you become addicted, sometimes even to the point of becoming an arsonist…if there isn’t a good crisis that you can get your teeth into, well, you’ll create one!

As the year gets under way I see more and more crisis management. Stress levels are heading off the scale, patience ran out long ago, tempers are rising and the behavior of people toward each other much of the time, verges on the abusive.

Crisis management becomes a habit, and like all habits, it’s hard to break.

Saying no to things that may be important to someone else, but are not on your personal priority list, is a start…presupposing that you know what your priorities are. Then you can take the time you have rescued and put it to…no…not another crisis! Put it to an activity that will help circumvent a future crisis or at least make your response to future crises more effective.

One of the very best ways to use the rescued time is to spend it with your team, coaching and problem solving so the team learns to operate more efficiently. A consequence of living in crisis mode is that you encounter the same problems again and again, without being able to take time to develop better responses to them.

Crisis management encourages micro-management because in a crisis you want a quick right-first-time fix. This reinforces the behavior of those who’ve done it before and can fix it this time without leaving their comfort zone. But it causes great frustration for the rest who can see better ways of doing things…if only someone who wasn’t in crisis would take time to listen.

You may enjoy being a firefighter, but next time the fire dies down, use the flames for some quiet reflection.

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