There are many great examples of the differences between managers and leaders. Let me be clear, I think that you must have both within an organization. The ability to jump in and solve a problem or issue that is going on, is invaluable. This is fire fighting. It takes someone that is calm under pressure, deliberate, and capable of assessing difficult situations and adapting to them quickly. Great managers always have the ability to do this, they are always there when needed, and they thrive on being able to put out any fire, problem, or issue.
But when you think about fire fighting in the business sense, what often happens is that we tend to solve problems by adding more fire fighters. If there are billing errors, we hire more people to work the errors. If we have a higher volume of customers, we hire more people to process them. When almost any problem or situation arises where productivity goes down, the tendency is to throw “bodies” at the problem – or more fire fighters.
But as a leader, there must be an emphasis on fire prevention. We must be able to rise above the flames around us, and look at the bigger picture. We need to assess the environmental conditions, and start laying out the vision of a better way. Where there are less fires, and consequently, less fire fighting. This is the type of strategic thinking that really separates a manager from a leader.
This is not an easy task. But leadership is not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to make things easier or at least simpler to understand.
As a leader, when your team begins to see the importance of fire prevention, you know that you are truly leading them. They start to develop programs. They build reports and metrics to identify problems before they happen. They look at things differently. They look for conditions that may cause fires, and they attack them.
If your team is spending all of their time fire fighting, then who is focused on fire prevention? If nobody focuses on fire prevention, then your teams will become more and more adept at fighting fires, rather than preventing them in the first place. This is a failure of leadership.
My name is Mark Behl. My passion is leadership. I share ideas, not lectures. If you would like to share an idea with me, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you come back for future posts.