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Preventing “Hair on Fire” Syndrome

As a follow up to the popular “Hair on Fire” article, I wish to emphasize the importance of strategy in everything you “are about to do.” The reason I say “about to do” is because the better we strategize, the better we prepare, the more effective we will be. And chances are the less we will have to do in the long run. I have to say, “the long run” because most of the reactionary things we do end up causing us to eventually run around as if our “Hair is on Fire” and that’s because we are literally always having to put out fires. If we are in management, then chances are we got there because we are excellent at putting out big fires.

The most consistent problem I face as an Executive Coach and Management Consultant is getting managers to manage instead of firefighting all day long. Usually, I am told, “I don’t have time to meet with my direct reports.” Well that’s a no brainer isn’t it? You don’t have time to meet with your direct reports because you are too busy putting out fires that are caused by not getting input and strategizing with your direct reports in the first place. The fires are normally so severe that they require immediate attention by someone with decision making authority. So you have to be there only because your managers and employees have not been empowered to make decisions. The massive research study done by Gallup and published in the book, “First Break All the Rules” found that “what makes for the best mangers in the world”, is that they meet with their direct reports on a consistent and regular basis. It is through these meetings that empowerment is given.

I have found that consistently meeting with direct reports is good thing and an accomplishment in itself, but what goes on in the meetings is another story. If the meeting is simply the boss telling the direct report what to do and even worse, how to do it, then that isn’t much of a meeting. But if you want to stop running around as if your hair is on fire along with everyone else, then you must learn how to engage and empower your employees. A good place to start is asking them what they think and what they suggest. Once they find out that you’re not going to make all of their decisions any longer they might actually begin to use their brain if it hasn’t atrophied too much. And when you get that ball rolling you can actually begin to collaborate with them and even, God forbid, strategize with them. Now they are beginning to be engaged because they are part of the plan. The next step is to empower them to actually make decisions and take responsibility. You might say, “That takes so much time and besides I already know the best way to do this job.” Well, guess what genius one of your people just might have an idea that could save you lots of time and money, if anyone ever asked them for their input. And I mean input from the executive office to the receptionist to the loading dock!

If you take the time to strategize first and act second, I guarantee in the long run you will have fewer fires and save yourself a ton of time and money. Be careful of analysis or perfection paralysis and don’t be afraid you or your direct reports will make a mistake. Set a strategy and pull the trigger.

And remember that: working hard is good, but getting things done is better.

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