Why Leaders Need to “Stop Fighting the Fires” in Their Companies

Dedicated and over-worked

Most leaders are guilty of working too hard at one point or another in their career. Often classified as passionate and driven people, leaders frequently dedicate their entire life to their work. Although this dedication can result in success it can also result in overwhelm, stress and a unhappiness.

A great example of overworking and over exertion comes from Darcy, an manager that just got promoted to lead a team of 120 people in operations. Darcy worked 70 to 80 hours a week, came to work early, left late, worked on weekends and didn’t take vacations. She was extremely successful but exhausted. When I met her I knew something needed to change.

After talking with her colleagues on her team I learned that Darcy was an excellent problem solver. Many people within the company would come to her with problems and she would easily provide a solution for them. This resulted in managers continually coming to Darcy to solve their problems. Before she knew it, Darcy was “fighting fires” all throughout her company as her biggest strength — problem solving — soon became her biggest liability in her management and leadership roles.

Leading by example

Darcy and I worked together to make some fundamental changes. Rather than enabling her managers to come to her with problems she began teaching her mangers to be better solution providers, encouraging them to come to her with solutions rather than problems. Each month she made the time to sit down with them and coach them, helping them to transfer the skills she herself possessed.

This ultimately allowed Darcy to spend much more time on strategy and long-term planning, delegating success critical projects, and setting direction for her team leaders instead of being involved in the day to day firefighting. After our year of working together Darcy reported that the company had met and exceeded all of it’s business goals. And more importantly, Darcy herself was able to grow her staff and decrease the hours she had to work. When we concluded our work, she said with joy: “on the weekends, I now go ride the Harley with my husband instead of working through emails.”

Less is sometimes more

Darcy is an excellent example of how being a leader means providing the tools for your colleagues to succeed. When you put time and effort in to teaching colleagues your skills and providing them with the tools to perform their job, you can focus on the bigger picture and improve the company at a higher level. Darcy showed us that when you step down and do less, you can actually bring more to the company.