There was a time that I found the practice of back burning or controlled burning during a fire to be unusual.

It seemed strange to me, at the time, that you would choose to fight a fire by lighting another fire. When I understood the purpose, of course it made perfect sense. The practice is less about an approach to fighting the fire as it is a method of starving it. The main purpose is to deprive it of the fuel it needs to spread and cause greater devastation. 

As leaders, we regularly find ourselves acting as fire fighters. Sometimes those fires come from an external source and threaten the organisation and other times they are lit internally by our own people.

The issue with having to regularly fight fires is that it’s a significant drain on your time, energy and resources. If that’s all you do, then chances are good you’ll go home at the end of each day smelling like the smoke of the problems you’ve had to deal with. Sometimes that smoke gets onto the people you care about.  

But what would it look like to shift the focus from fire fighter to fire starver? I think that’s the responsibility and role of great leadership. Fire starving is less focused on fighting the fire and more focused on removing the fuel that feeds it.

Take gossip as an example: Rumour or gossip might be spread by loose lips but it’s fuelled by listening ears. As a leader you can spend all of your time, energy and resources fighting it or trying to eradicate it. Or you could spend that same energy, time and resource building and empowering a culture that refuses to fuel it by listening to it. Or even better, intentionally empower people with the tools to have more effective conversations. If people are empowered to talk ‘to’ one another it’s less likely they will feel the need to talk ‘about’ one another. Start by taking away the fuel. 

If you find yourself regularly fighting the same fires or trying to deal with the same blaze, what would it look like to shift your focus and energy to the fuel that’s feeding it?

I’d love to hear your examples of how you’ve removed the fuel to a fire before things get out of hand OR what you’re going to focus on moving forward. Drop me an email when you have some time I’d love to hear your thoughts.