Putting Out Too Many Fires Lately?

Putting Out Too Many Fires Lately?

What’s more productive over time, firefighting or fire prevention?

Does it seem that every time you think things are going to be okay, another problem seems to pop up out of nowhere? I know I’ve been there; feeling the frustration of not believing I’d ever get time to get back to working on that new project I had been hoping to get underway. My focus turned from the exciting creating mode to the problem solving mode. Sometimes it was equipment breakdown that needed immediate attention. Sometimes it was helping members of the team to resolve a relationship or teamwork problem.

When our momentum consistently shifts from putting out the fires that seem to pop up, we often become discouraged and stop moving forward. We can get ourselves into the habit of procrastination, of spending valuable thinking time on ways to prevent or handle the next problem or fire that will inevitably pop up.

It can slip up on us and if we are not careful, we can end up losing all of our momentum and end up in a downward spiral. Hopefully we can stop that downward momentum soon enough so that we don’t have to start all over again. It happens to a lot of people personally as well as organizations and the culprit is always the same: Lack of focused attention to innovation.

People and organizations that lack innovation are in trouble and the only way to turn that trouble into forward momentum is to be determined and persistent to create a sustainable culture of innovation. The leader must be determined and persistent, refusing to allow any down time to be spent on putting out fires. Steven Covey developed a Time Matrix model that helps a person to determine what is urgent and what is important.

I learned through his teaching of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that urgent things usually deal with things while important things deal with people. Important things such development of a vision and communication, discovering and utilizing the strengths of the team, building and maintaining trust by understanding how to deal with conflict, getting buy-in and commitment, having accountability, and synergy by creating clarity around desired results.

When we shift our extra or down time from thinking about how to deal with urgent things, like the fires we seem to always be putting out, to how we can train and equip others to handle the urgent things, we begin to create forward momentum. Momentum toward innovation and creation rather than maintenance and repair. Both maintenance or repair and creation and innovation take energy. But creation and innovation create energy while maintenance and constant repair drain energy. Ask yourself what kind of energy field you are operating in. Do you go home tired and frustrated or do you go home satisfied and fulfilled?

Let me share with you what I learned about creating a culture of innovation from the article from John C. Maxwell:

1. Model it. Your leaders need to act on opportunities quickly and decisively. If their decisions reflect where the business is going, not where it is today, their mindset can permeate the whole organization. If they demonstrate a forward-thinking mindset, you’ll soon start to see creativity amongst all your leaders and team members.

2. Encourage positive failure. Failure is a critical part of success. Your leaders need to know their creative problem-solving attempts are appreciated even when the end result isn’t quite what they hoped.

3. Embrace option-thinking. Your leaders and managers need to become comfortable with change and risk. Great ideas are born from uncertainty. Take another look at Odon. His own wife told him he was crazy at first! But innovators like Odon look for options, no matter how off-the-wall they may appear. If you can encourage the environment with your leaders, innovation can follow.

4. Insist on solution-thinking. No one benefits from constant complaining that doesn’t seek a solution. Train your leaders to brainstorm multiple solutions for every problem they identify. This approach not only minimizes the issues that come up, but also gives leaders ownership of challenges.

5. Harness the power of fresh perspective. One of the best ways to remain innovative and flexible is to make the most of new leaders’ perspectives. Keep fresh eyes around and listen closely to their observations. Your team may be surprised by how much they bring to the table.

6. Celebrate good ideas. When dealing with leaders and managers in your organization, let them know their ideas are important. If they feel their voice is taken seriously, they’ll feel free to express the next great idea instead of keeping to themselves or taking it somewhere else. Celebrate good ideas, acknowledge the people who bring them forward, and your company will discover a never-ending supply of leading-edge suggestions.

One of the best military leaders in the history of the US, General George Patton, shared this battle-tested wisdom: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” When the leaders in your company apply Patton’s approach with the six ways listed above, they will soon be implementing the fresh ideas born of your innovation culture.

I know what some are thinking: “You don’t work where I do, you don’t understand what I go through and have to deal with every day!” I understand how you feel, I’ve been there. There were times that I was the victim of a leader who lost sight of the main goals and momentum slid downhill. Other times, I was the leader and fell into the same trap. This scenario plays itself out every day at work, at home, in our church, etc. It happens when we shift our energy to seeking comfort and ease rather than growth and innovation. We are all human, and for some reason, we like to find comfort. That’s not a bad thing, but when we find it, we tend to want to stay there and that’s when fires break out. We stay in the comfort zone long enough, and the house burns down around us!

Leadership is about leading, leading others somewhere. When a leader stays focused on improving his or her ability to lead, it means their focus is always forward, on growth. Growing and reinventing ourselves takes time, energy, and innovation. The same goes for our teams and organizations. Innovation is the responsibility of the leader, so that means as leaders, we don’t get too much time off to seek comfort.

You’ll have time today to stop and drink a cup of coffee, grab a lunch, to make personal calls, etc., so when you do stop for a moment, put the first step of creating a culture of innovation on your to-do-list. Spend that time and energy wisely, you won’t get it back. Check out this short video on time before you leave this post.

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