Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

When The Fireman Is The Fire Starter

Image Source, Digital Spy

How often have you seen it or heard it – “thank you for moving so quickly, you and/or your team adapted, were nimble, and incredibly agile”? Or maybe, it was something like, “wow, I can’t say enough about you rallied, took on more, stepped up, and quickly pivoted!”

On the surface, these accolades, that praise, and those words sound great. And often, they are demonstrative of true outlier moments, where extraordinary feats are necessary.

However, more often than you’d think, the acknowledgment of speed should never have happened. Not because gratitude isn’t important. But, because the reasons speed is often required are some combination of lack of planning, a self-created fire drill, an over-promised arbitrary milestone/timeline.

Without realizing it, we often perceive the best firemen as the people who start the fires. Think about this for a second. How often have you seen a person’s:

  • Poor decision making
  • Missed deadline
  • Inaction
  • Bad planning
  • Over-promising

create a “fire” – only for them to spin up a bunch of resources, workstreams, and actions to successfully put out the fire? Those firemen are then recognized as leaders who marshaled resources, pointed them in a focused direction, and then…well, like I said, put out the fire. We’re actually rewarding the people who create the fires.

Activity does not equal accomplishment. And, accomplishments are not necessarily something we should celebrate. 

We need to stop praising the fire starters. They aren’t saviors. They’re the chaos creators. That teams move expeditiously to resolve the poor management of chaos creators, says more about the gaps that exist in process, planning, and leadership, than it does about heroism.