Fire Fighting

Posted on June 7, 2010


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I have often been asked, “How will I know when I’m not proactive enough?” Indeed, this seems to be a common question among leaders and managers. “How much is enough?” “Is there ever an end to it?” “Where is the line to stop?” In this leadership lesson, we shall explore the rule of thumb to proactivity: When you find that you are fire-fighting, you are not proactive enough.

Allow me to explain. All too often, as leaders and managers we find ourselves frantically fighting fire. What does this mean? It simply means reacting to undesirable situations, rather than pre-empting it. In such circumstances, we find ourselves out of control of the situation; we find ourselves doing massive damage control rather than comfortably managing the situation.

How does fire-fighting reflect a lack of proactivity? To answer this, let us first look at how situations which require fire-fighting are born. Many a time, such situations turn out as such as somewhere in the past, we as leaders and managers failed to consider a particular factor that may massively affect the results of our project. Sometimes we even go on to wish that if just we knew back then the severity of the outcome. That’s exactly the point! If just at some point in the past, we consciously and conscientiously took the initiative and pre-empt the problem, we would be having a smooth sailing project rather than a roller coaster ride. Hence, we can clearly see that the failure to be proactive in searching for problem results in more problem popping up in future.

And this presents a slippery slope problem. The less we are proactive, the more we would omit problems that would haunt us in time to come, and the more we would busy ourselves doing damage control. In turn, the more we find ourselves doing damage control, the less time and resources we have to focus on immediate problems, and this result in more problems popping up in the future. Here, we find ourselves in a vicious cycle where fire fighting never seems to end.

Back to the initial question. How will you know when you’re not proactive? When you find yourself fighting fire! When you often hear phrases such as, “Please sort out the issue!” or “Why wasn’t this done before?”, you know that you have to be more proactive. When you find yourself struggling to cope or to solve problems that have gone badly wrong, you know you have to be more proactive. When you see that your team is always busy patching up problems rather than preventing problems, you know you have to be more proactive.

Start now. It will definitely seem like a daunting task at the beginning, but once you manage to get your team from doing damage control to damage prevention, tasks will be so much more smooth sailing and efficient, and you know you can focus your energies on being yet more proactive and focus on long term goals!

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