EP 22: Firefighting!

Ep 22

This episode of the Open Door Conversations Podcast is for the firefighting leader. If you feel that you have to redo your team’s work to make it better, you are always needed to solve problems as they arise, or you are overworking to avoid feeling guilty, you might be addicted to fighting fires.  

In today’s episode, Akua shares what it looks like to be a firefighting leader. Before you can fix this issue, you must recognize that it is happening and that you are the main reason it happens. Once you cultivate your awareness around the issue and see the impact it has on your team and their productivity, then you can work to create a plan that keeps you from fighting fires as they pop up.  

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What's Covered in this Episode About Overwhelmed Leaders

  • Raising your awareness to discover if you are a firefighting leader
  • Using strategic planning instead of firefighting with your team 
  • Why firefighting leadership is not sustainable  
  • The myths behind hustle culture and success
  • Knowing when and how to pivot if needed 


Quotes from this Episode of Open Door Conversations

  • "Firefighting in business is the practice of dealing with problems as they arise, rather than planning strategically to avoid them." - Akua Nyame-Mensah
  • "By firefighting, or being addicted to fighting fires can be incredibly expensive for you, right? Because you end up taking your attention away from things that you maybe should be focusing on that may have a bigger impact on your bottom line." - Akua Nyame-Mensah
  • "It's important that you are able to sustain your resilience and your determination to more effectively handle uncertainty, stress and burnout. And the only way to do that is if you have the support of your team." - Akua Nyame-Mensah

Get to Know the Host of the Open Door Conversations Podcast

Learn more about your host, Akua Nyame-Mensah.

Akua is a certified executive and leadership coach, recognized learning and organizational development facilitator, speaker, and former startup executive. 

Since 2018, she has had the opportunity to partner with amazing organizations, from high-growth startups to multinational brands all around the world, to maximize people, performance, and profit.  Outside of her coaching and corporate speaking engagements, she is a regular mentor, coach, and judge for various entrepreneurship-focused organizations.

Stay in touch with Akua Nyame-Mensah, Leadership & Culture Advisor:

  • Read about Akua’s services if you’d like to learn more about how you can hire her to help you strengthen your organization’s culture.

  • Complete her contact form to jump on a call.

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Here’s the transcript for episode 22 about Firefighting

NOTE: Please excuse any errors in this transcript; it was created using an AI tool. Akua Nyame-Mensah 0:07 Welcome to the open door podcast. My name is Akua Nyame-Mensah Chaos respond to Aqua. And yeah, I'm a certified executive and leadership coach recognised facilitator and former sort of leader that loves supporting reluctant buyer fighting and overwhelmed leaders. I've worked with them to help them clarify where they should focus their time and energy each and every day so that they can love themselves, love their work, and ultimately love their life. If you're looking to learn leadership information and hear different perspectives, you are in the right place. My aim in this podcast is to help you see that one of the most productive and profitable things you can do is deeply understand yourself. Understand how you show up, understand how you thrive and allow yourself to align everything in your work in your life, and in your business to support that think of this podcast as your weekly opportunity to receive leadership support. And remember, there is no one right way to lead yourself or others. Thank you so much for taking the time to join me today. Let's get started. Hello, and welcome to this episode of the open door conversations podcast. This episode is inspired by a social media post that I got some feedback on and I thought I would share it with more of you. So today we're going to be covering a quick case study all about firefighting. And if you've listened to any of my previous episodes, you know that I tend to work with leaders who are dealing with three basic challenges there either reluctant leaders, firefighting leaders, or overwhelmed leaders. And I decided I would dedicate this episode to talking about firefighting. So we're going to start off with a quick case study. And then we're going to get into what Firefighting is. So a quick definition to make sure we're all on the same page. And then we're to talk a little bit about why you might firefight or have this issue. Last but not least, we're going to talk about some of the first steps you can take to reduce your firefighting tendencies if you have to. So we're really going to be talking about are you addicted to firefighting? Or are you addicted to fighting fires? So let's start with the case study. Here it is. And I'd love for you actually to reach out to me on social media and let me know which of the two you would actually do. So here's the case study, a team member interrupts you while you're working on the budget for next month, you need to get your budget in the next few hours. But you also want to make sure your team members have what they need to succeed. The team member wants your input on a task that you have already outlined for them. They haven't tried going through the entire process yet. So do you a jump in or be remind yourself of your priorities? Let them know you trust them, and that you do not have the capacity to support them right now? Let me know. I'd love for you to pause this episode and let me know by DM me on social media. My Details are below in the podcast episode description. So let me know would you do A or would you do B. And so let's talk a little bit more about what Firefighting is. And so I got this definition from the Oxford languages, just because I wanted to make sure it was clear and concise. So what is firefighting in business? Firefighting in business is the practice of dealing with problems as they arise, rather than planning strategically to avoid them. So this is what it might look like. One, you always want to solve all the problems that your team comes to you with two, you always want to fix tasks that your team completes, or three, you don't take a break until you're sick and unable to get out of bed. Okay, so you're only really dealing with things as they come up, you're never really being strategic. And so what could end up happening or what this looks like, for me running around like a chicken with its head cut off, just trying to do the most right, running around trying to do everybody else's job as opposed to making sure they have the information they need to be consistent and show up. Okay? This might also look like you find that you end up being the dumping ground for everybody else's problems because they know you're going to come and redo it anyway, right? Maybe you're a bit of a micromanager. Maybe you redo the work anyway. So if you're constantly muttering on your breath, that you have to redo the work or that you will redo it, you might be a firefighter or someone addicted to fighting fires. Okay, another thing you might be doing or might be happening is that you will stay up until 3am to redo it even when you don't have to just because you want to make sure it has your approach on it. Alright, so really just recognising, showing up in that way, is not sustainable. Showing up in that way doesn't allow you to make the most of the team that you're looking to build, whether that's the team in your personal or your professional life. It's really important. And I think I already have a previous episode where I talk a little bit more about delegation that was actually an interview. So I'll make sure that is linked up in the show notes. Because it's very important that you start to recognise that firefighting, or, you know, wanting to fight fires is not the best time of or not the best use of your time and your energy. So where does this firefighting come from? So I had the opportunity one to reflect for myself, when I find myself in this space where I feel like I need to redo things or be involved, even though I shouldn't have to. And I also have lots of conversations, my clients and other people who are interested in my work. And so these are some of the things that came up firefighting or this interest in wanting to fight fires, as opposed to having sustainable processes or saying no, and having boundaries comes from feeling guilty for having things left on your to do list. Okay, if that's something that resonates, you know, this is something that you might really need to listen to. Okay, this might also come from that you feel like you need to make up for your perceived weaknesses. And so you feel that by overworking being a workhorse, always being involved is going to allow you to appear stronger, or allow you to look more like a leader. But it couldn't be further from the truth. In most situations. This might also come from you feeling like you don't deserve positive results, right, that you have to work hard or look like you're working incredibly hard in order to be successful. So to me, when that sort of comes up, it's this idea in my mind of that hustle culture, the only way you can be successful, the only way the results that you get, especially if they're positive are worth it is if you work hard, and it looks like you're potentially breaking your back or being involved in everything. Once again, this is not the most sustainable story to tell yourself about leadership, building a business or building a career. This can also come from feeling like you can do it better than others, right. So I gave this to somebody to do but I know I can do it better. So I need to jump in. Even though I probably have things I need to do in order to move everyone forward. This can also come from feeling like you need to be a part of the process, I have to be there I want to be needed. I have to it's mine, right and recognising once again, you cannot do this on your own, you can't build a career, you can't build a business by yourself. And you really need to learn to take that time and space away so that others can really support you so that your business can scale or your career can scale. Another way this might come up is when you feel like you don't have the time and space to build processes, right. And that's one of the things that I spend a lot of time with my clients on helping them create that time and space to have processes, so they don't need to firefight so they don't feel like they have to constantly jump in. This might also come from feeling like you don't have the resources, right. So this can be the resources, whether it's time or whether it's financial resources to train your team to support you, right. So when you hire someone, you're delegating, you have to train them, right, they can't just jump in and be ready at the get go. A lot of times it's a learning curve. And so you can support them, whether it's through training, whether it's through coaching, whether it's yourself so that they can get there, right? So you'll end up firefighting, if you don't create that time and space if you don't set aside the financial resources to train your team or whoever's meant to support you. Alright, last but not least, this also comes from not having boundaries, okay, especially around your time. So feeling like people, you know, should just jump up and support you right without questions or checking their calendar bandwidth or energy, right. So if I'm, you know, willing and able and capable of firefighting, everybody should write and once again, that is probably not the best story to be telling yourself or the best thing to necessarily believe. So really recognising that firefighting can come from so many different angles, I've shared a few that really resonate with me and some of the people that I support. And I hope that some of these resonated with you. And if you hear yourself in any of these things, right, if you hear yourself and you know that you're someone who may be firefights, or shows up in this way, the first thing you really want to do is build your awareness around it, right? So that first step, I take my clients through cultivating their self awareness, really building their awareness to understand where this might be coming from, why they might be showing up this way. And why why should we care? Why is this important conversation to listen to? This is an important conversation to listen to, and an important conversation to have with yourself and the people who support you. Because by your fighting, or being addicted to fighting fires can be incredibly expensive for you, right? Because you end up taking your attention away from things that you maybe should be focusing on that may have a bigger impact on your bottom line. It's also not really great for your health. If you're constantly staying up till 3am In the morning redoing other people's work physically, mentally, emotionally, that might not be best for you, and ultimately not best for your business. Okay? It's not great for your bottom line. You can't scale a business by yourself, right? So it's not great for your bottom line. In that way, as well, and probably most importantly, these last three that I have here, this means if you're constantly in this sort of fight or flight mode, if you're constantly firefighting and putting out fires, that means you're never able to plan for the future. And that means you're also not creating time to check in, if you need to pivot. Okay? The only way you can make sure that you're hitting your goals, or your KPIs, or whatever you've set for yourself is if you've created the time and space to check in on whether or not you're getting closer or further away, and I think that that's so important, it's something that we always forget about goal setting, it also might lead to burnout, which is massive, right. And once again, I will leave a link to a very simple little post that I put together really around burnout and some of the misconceptions we have around burnout. And at some point in time, I will definitely put together a podcast about that as well. And I also want to make sure that I emphasise on this last one. And that's the reason why I've left it to last. And I wanted to make sure I left this particular one to be the last thing I share around why you should care and why this is an important conversation for you to have with yourself or with whoever supporting you. And that's through firefighting, or putting out fires constantly, you may lose the respect of your stakeholders, you may lose the respect of your team and your loved ones, because what they see you doing and how you're showing up isn't really conducive, right? Your stakeholders might say things like, this person doesn't always seem prepared, they kind of always seem haggard, they're not really showing up. Right? They're inconsistent. Your team might feel like, Hmm, this human being is micromanaging me, it doesn't make sense for me to do the work because they're gonna come back and redo it anyway. Or she's never really clear about what needs to happen. And she just jumps in and has it done anyway, or he always feels like he needs to tell me what to do, even though we've spent time and energy and he's trained me correctly, right. So you really might lose their respect. And of course, when it comes to your family, your family might say, we only see you when you're sick, or we only see you when you're sleepy. Whenever we go on vacations, you're not even available, you know, emotionally, physically, mentally, you're completely tapped out, we don't even get the best of you. So this is why you should care. And this is why it's so important for you to reflect on whether or not this is one of the ways in which you're showing up. And once again, for most of us, we're not constantly showing up in this way, there are certain times of the year or certain things that we're working on where this might show up. And so learning, right, reflecting being aware of this is the first step in being able to pivot or shift. Okay, so how do we deal with firefighting? What are some of the first steps that we can take and so this is what I am really excited to share a little bit more about the first step, of course, around that cultivating that self awareness. But ultimately, what you want to do is to connect right, connect with whatever stakeholders you have, connect whatever team, you know, with whatever team you have, whether that's within your personal life, or your professional life, and really start to think about really start to strategize to build processes, right. And hopefully, these are sustainable processes. But if not creating that space, so that you can improve them and evolve them if necessary, to really move forward. That's the way forward connecting with others recognising that you can't do it on your own. And connecting with others might be getting the support of a coach, getting the support of you know, a therapist, working with a mentor, getting some additional training that also could be connecting and getting that support. Alright, so let me break this down a little bit further. So how to really deal with this firefighting right? So that first step I already mentioned, it's something that I talked so much about, and a lot of my podcast episodes, and a lot of the work I do is around helping to raise people's awareness around this, right? So cultivating your awareness, what is happening, what is the impact, and sometimes you'll get this feedback potentially through doing a 360 interview or doing an appraisal process or asking for feedback from your loved ones, your stakeholders, or even your team, because you may not be aware of it. So going externally of you sometimes to get this information might be incredibly helpful or alert you to the fact that there may be an issue here that you could potentially show up in a different way. Another thing that might alert you is once again that health thing, right, you might recognise you have some sort of recurring health issue that's showing up. And that could be because something's off in your professional life. Another way this might show up is you realise you're super tired or really sleepy. The things that you normally explore excited about or care about may no longer stimulate you in the same way. And so you get curious and you say to yourself, what's happening? Is there a different way in which I can show up? And that's really where that engagement piece comes in. So with the engagement piece simplifying engagement, it's starting to get really curious and really brainstorm. How do I want to show up, right? What do I need to feel my Best and do my best. What boundaries? May I need to set? In order to do that? What priorities may I need to set in order to do that? And that last bit, right, that set expectations bit is around. Okay, so I've set my boundaries, I've set my priorities for how long, right? When do I need to check in, right. And remember, when we are setting expectations, you can leverage your stakeholders both in your personal and your professional life, right in terms of holding you accountable, and helping you think about when you need to check in, right. And I always recommend that you check in at regular intervals. So it can be on a weekly basis, it can be on a monthly basis to see if your strategy is working to see if you are building processes that are allowing you to show up so you feel renewed, so you feel refreshed. So you feel recharged, and you're not upset or annoyed or staying up super late in order to get something done with that last step around setting expectations. It's also really important that you pivot if it's necessary, right. So if you recognise something isn't working, the process you've put into place, the plan you've put into place, the stakeholders or team members you've pulled in, are not working, you are supporting you in the way that you need. It's really time for you also to reflect on what else is possible in to shift if necessary. Okay, so so important, right? So those three steps really to deal with firefighting, I'm just going to repeat them really quickly. Right? Cultivate your awareness around what's happening, what's the impact, right simplifying engagement, like how do you actually want to show up? What are some of the boundaries and priorities that you might need to put into place? And then finally, around that setting expectations piece? What stakeholders can help hold you accountable in your person, your professional life? How often do you want to check in to see, you know, based on the plan, or the strategy you've put into place? How often do you want to check to see if it's working? And when do you want to pivot? Like, when do you want to say, okay, stop, this isn't working, and I'm gonna try something different, or I want to move on. Alright. So a huge part of engagement might also be around connecting and motivating members of your team. And acknowledgement is around that, right. Being able to, to acknowledge them, and bring them in and motivate them might be super important as well. And really recognising that that's a process it might really take some time. Another reason why we do this and why it's so important, right when it comes to recognising that we have these firefighting tendencies is that it's important that you are able to sustain your resilience and your determination to more effectively handle uncertainty, stress and burnout. And the only way to do that is if you have the support of your team. And you have policies in place and plans in place and strategies in place. So you don't feel like you're constantly doing the work and that you're constantly having to show up in a way that is not sustainable. Okay. So as you deepen your self awareness, and you understand how you're potentially showing up, it's so much easier for you to say no, have those boundaries and really be able to show up strategically, so that you're able to make those money making decisions and moves you are able to find time to do the things that you love outside of work. And finally, so you no longer feel guilty for not getting everything done on your to do list, which was probably too long. Anyway, right? So you have that that self compassion piece as well. So I think I'm just going to end here just by asking, do you firefight right? Do you fight fires in your day to day work in your life? You know, are there certain places in your business or in your life where you tend to do this, right? You just tend to be doing doing? And maybe you're complaining about it? You say? There's no one to help me? There's no, I have no good member of my team, right? And if that's the case, I really want you to re listen to this podcast episode and really start to think about where can you shift? Where can you change? And then I'd love for you to reach out to me. All right, I'd love for you to reach out to me, and we can have a conversation. And maybe we can also work together because I do have a few spaces left in my one on one leadership coaching programme. And this is the type of work that we do, right? We recognise we're showing up in ways that aren't sustainable, that are unproductive. And we start to think about how can we tweak this? How can we change certain things, and how we're showing up so that we can get more done and get closer to our goals? All right. And if you feel like you have members of your team that are firefighting and showing up in a way that isn't sustainable and isn't helping you get closer to your goals, please share this podcast episode with them. Because once again, this is going to help them to build their awareness and help them start to think what are some of the things that they can do differently? And maybe even what are some of the things they need from you? Yes, you do your leader to help them show up and be effective so that we can all move towards the same goals that we've set together. All right. So thank you so much for taking the time to listen to my podcast episode today. I hope that this was a helpful conversation. For me. I just really wanted to share a little bit more about firefighting or fighting fires and really help people think about how they can do it differently and how they can show up differently. All right. If you have any questions or any thoughts, please feel free to show up and connect with me on social media. I would love to know if this resonated with you and what other conversations you would like me to have. Thank you so much. Stay safe and stay safe. Bye. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to today's episode. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please share it with your friends. We can continue this conversation on social media the links to my socials so that is LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. You can find them in the show notes. If you tagged me in a story and include the hashtag hashtag ask Akua I will share a special little gift with you. Thank you so much once again for your time and I cannot wait to share my next episode with you stay safe and sane.


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