Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road. ~ Dag Hammarskjold
Have you ever had to fight a fire?
Whether a physical fire or a metaphor, a fire is a dangerous foe for which you need to have a quick mind and a resilient nature to do battle. Yes, battle because that fire only grows bigger and becomes more threatening as time passes, and it passes at warped speed. If you’re reading this, you are probably not a firefighter, accustomed and trained for fires. You’re a business leader. So, some of your fires, in addition to actual flames with heat, could include threats of violence or harassment within or outside the business, cybersecurity breaches or product defects. These could possibly happen any time so while you may not 100% prepared, you can be ready. As you will read, like me, you can do this.
I faced this villain of a flame breathing one recently. A glass ensconced candle within a steel bowl was perched on a hefty wooden pedestal five feet away from my desk. I stepped 15 feet away to get water for my dog. Within a time frame of 20 seconds, the candle’s flame seduced by the materials in my rolling desk chair adhered to the chair. I smelled it before I saw it. And when I saw it all the alarms in my soul went haywire. It was terrifying.
Even though my monkey brain was shouting at me, “Help! Help! This cannot be happening!”, my core wisdom and experience kicked in. I didn’t hear, “you got this”, I felt it. And it had nothing to do with fighting fires before.
I tried to snuff the fire with an old damp sweatshirt. It didn’t work. Then I did what you’re told not to do: I opened my front door into the building’s hallway (my office is by the front door) and yelled for help. My younger neighbors were all home, but only my neighbor across the hall ventured out. I asked her to bring water in bowls, buckets or pots. However, seeing the flame, she was paralyzed with fear, having an out loud debate over what kind of buckets or bowls. Meanwhile, I made sure my dog was in a safe place, threw bowls of water from the nearby bathroom sink and put it out myself.
Phew! I could feel my adrenaline had already reached peak and was at least leveling, and my heart rate was starting to decrease. By the time the building manager and doorman came with a fire extinguisher, it was all over. Leaving soot, smoke, a wet floor, cinders and a burned arm (mine) in its place.
How could I act so fast and keep clear headed in a highly charged situation? It’s embedded in my being from earlier experiences. From when I was young, I had to fight my own battles – from my brother, to kids in the neighborhood or in school. I understood I was alone when a crisis would hit, there was nobody else but me; just as we learn eventually to walk from prior efforts and muscle memory, I relied on my brain and gut, my muscle memory, to quickly look for resources and problem solve to get out of danger or any situation I didn’t want to be in. Anybody who was raised in a single parent household, a household where both parents worked, a foster home, or combined families learns to fend for themselves.
For instance, when I was bullied in seventh grade on a continual basis because I was so tall and thin at that age, sticking up for myself was not enough. My friends in the class were too scared to take my side, as were the teachers. I went to the principal’s office and kept doing it until he stepped in to do something. When I wanted to change schools in my junior year of high school, my first choice didn’t accept me. I called the headmaster’s office to that school and had a meeting with him to discuss the reasoning and my options. My parents were working and not available; it was always just me to pave my own way. When I faced young male bullies on a bus in a foreign country, I talked them down while alerting the driver to what was happening. These experiences and more were some of my trainings for putting out fires by assessing situations quickly and deescalating them.
Your Fire Drill Plan
You too are capable of putting out fires. One way to prepare for fire is a fire drill plan: make a list of potential big problems you might face, then a list of people you can depend upon during a specific challenge, and finally consider dangers you’ve gone through when you’ve had to act immediately and how you handled them. By doing this, you’ll feel empowered.
Your Fire Extinguisher
Then for your fire extinguishing, here are some tips I’ve found helpful:
- During the gravest danger, focus on the destination or light at the end of the tunnel, that will keep you clearheaded and not clouded in fear;
- During a fire situation, the solution is two-fold. Put out the blaze/the immediate danger first, then you can tackle the longer-range clean-up.
- When tackling the clean-up, reach out to the people who are dependable, clear headed, resourceful and calm. They may not have been through your same storm, but working with them gives you greater confidence because you trust them to come through for you.
Want to be better prepared for potential situations? Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org . Let’s talk. We’ll take it one step at a time.
I’ve been where you are now standing which is why I’ve worked with different consultants to up my game as a leader too. It’s a strength to understand when you want to move ahead and can benefit from someone else’s experience and resources who have been in your position before and can relate to you. To learn more and discover which of the three services within Golden Monocle™ suit your needs, contact me, Susan@SusanGoldbergLeadership.com .
My work as a leadership and communication expert has me go into organizations, as an outside unbiased view to look at the information gaps. Using proprietary and trademarked solutions including a team mapping tool, Collaboration Beyond Words™, I identify what an organization and/or its leaders are missing that’s holding them back from thriving and continuing to stay relevant. Have practices become entrenched or no longer fit your plans for today’s workplace and goals? Contact me: Susan@SusanGoldbergLeadership.com Let’s talk.