iSixSigma

Parachute in the Fire Fighter

Organisation in chaos? Emergencies erupting? Been blind-sided by the unexpected? Project a few years late and still does not work? Need to get things under control? Make way for the Corporate Fire Fighter. (Phew!)

This trusted pair of hands hits the ground running….makes rapid assessment of situation….. takes urgent action …… reports an outstanding success …….moves onto the next big fire.

You could be thinking, “Hey that’s me!”. Agreed fire-fighting can be fun, exhilarating and very rewarding for those involved. Your organisation may place a high degree of recognition and reward on people with these skills.

But is this a measure of a healthy and successful organisation?

Would an alternative model be of a highly organised machine where everything fits strategically together; risks are identified and addressed early; projects invariably deliver on time, cost & quality; business metrics provide robust leading indicators. Achieving that level of capability is difficult, very difficult.

An organisation may not have this level maturity for any number of reasons. They may be a business start-up and just about managing to keep a lid on issues as the business grows. They may be working in a highly innovative sector where new products and competitors frequently appear to “eat your lunch”.

But what about the fire starters? The leaders who raise the alarm? Is this the right thing to do?

I am no expert on management leadership & behaviour theory. It might be just the right thing to do to keep people on their toes? Creating a crisis can be a good way to drive things forward. Or is it a reactive and costly approach?

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Ultimately I think it comes down to looking at the root-cause and fixing what/who caused the crisis in the first place rather than heroic fire-fighting.

Comments 4

  1. michael cardus

    The leaders who are prone to starting fires are what we somtimes call adrenaline leaders.
    Leaders who through off the chaos of the organization. Although as we understand an organization always in chaos is not healthy.
    Projects and decisions may at first appear to happen fast, soon when all choice are made in an adrenaline mindset all choices are rushed and sloppy.
    Plus the concern with an adrenaline leader is that they have to constantly push the chaos into higher states, creating greater adrenaline fueled work environments to recieve the the release and hight the leader get from the adrenaline.
    This brain is destructive to projects, especiially 6S projects that take time and resources for a return. While the leader is looking for fires no one cares about DMAIC or VOC’s all they want is the fire and a quick fix.
    BEWARE this type of organizational leader.

  2. Robin Barnwell

    Thanks Michael, tricky one as sometimes this is exactly the someone that an organisation needs.

    Suggest there are positive fires to have e.g. "we do not understand our customers" or "we must address the waste"?

  3. Tim Hall


    It is usually valid to ciriticise the Adrenaline Manager: Too much of him and the organisation learns how to do just enough to get him of their back, but not enough to solve the problem and certainly not get to the root cause.
    Even so there are times when organisations and individuals need a whirlwind to get us to take a step back and check we are on the right track.
    The Adrenaline manager may not be the ideal solution: How would others choose to raise the tempo in an organisation which has become a little too comfortable?

  4. Robin Barnwell

    Let me do a gross generalisation

    Its kind of like the perceived style differences between a Japanese/German and American/UK business.

    Toyota or Ford….GE or Sony

    Which is the right style and when?

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