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I bet you didn’t realize that when you joined corporate America that you were also volunteering to become a firefighter. You don’t run into burning buildings to save the day or rescue small cats from trees. Instead, your typical day looks like this:

  1. Wake up and check email.
  2. Respond to the emails with flaming hot issues before leaving the house.
  3. Make a call or two during the commute to review what happened (or what broke) yesterday.
  4. Arrive at work.
  5. Immediately go to a meeting or dive back into email.
  6. People arrive unannounced or unscheduled at your office door or cube entry with questions or issues.
  7. Repeat Items #5 and #6 continually throughout the day
  8. Make a mad dash for the door to get to a <<insert a personal commitment or family matter>>

Sound familiar? I feel stressed out just by writing it.

There are variations on this theme, but this firefighting is repeated most days for leaders and workers alike. Discussions to plan or prepare for the day, week or month fall by the wayside as too many leaders spend all their time fighting fires.

As I begin working with clients, the inevitable plea is to help them get out of this mode. Most people feel like victims of the culture of the organization or of their boss and people they work with. They feel stuck and powerless to do anything about their situation. They believe their boss or culture of the organization will only allow this to be the case and there’s no way to change it. My job with my clients and your job today is to take the power back that you’ve surrendered to your situation and begin leading yourself to a work life that you lead rather than it leading you.

Lead yourself through these questions that I ask and work through with my clients.

  1. How have you created this firefighting mode of working? While your organization might have a firefighting or crisis management approach to work, you have willingly decided to simply jump into this river and go with the current. In addition, we don’t typically do anything unless it serves us in some way or there is a payoff of some sort. This could be many things. Many of my clients experience a rush from the pace that comes from being in firefighting and the satisfaction of being someone’s hero for a given situation. If this is you, my guess is that you also operate this way other areas of your life.
  2. How committed are you to changing? The bottom line is whether you’re ready to change or not. Most people get stuck on the question of “how to” change but the reality is that they’ve just decided to NOT change. This is your moment to decide.
  3. What new agreements do you need to make and with whom do you need to make them? The world works primarily on unspoken expectations we have for one another. Expectations are thoughts that usually reside only in a person’s head about how things will go or will be. For example, the person who constantly shows up at your door with a question or problem has the expectation that this is how the two of you operate together. He’s never said that to you or had a conversation about whether that is true or acceptable. He simply has that as an expectation. Having a conversation with this person and AGREEING how the two of you will interact and how problems/questions will be handled is a first step to seizing back your day.
  4. By when will you have the conversation to create the new agreements? Leaders I work with often weasel out of doing anything at this point. They use phrases like, “I’ll try” or “Might be able to when…” Hold your own feet to the fire by making a commitment of when you’ll have the conversation about the agreements and then help yourself by enlisting the support of a colleague to remain committed to both having the conversation and keeping your part in these new agreements.

These are just four of the many questions to start creating your new experience at work and life. If you decide to not lead yourself through these questions, I wonder how committed you really are to change and having a different experience.

I’d love to jump on a 30-minute call to support you. Click here and let’s put an end to the firefighting.

Jeff HarmonJeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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