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What CEOs Can Learn From Firefighters

by Michael Murphy / July 21, 2021

Firefighters spend all day putting out actual fires. As a CEO, metaphorical fires are a common occurrence in the workplace. Some of the same tactics that actual firefighters use can be put to good use against your own fires as well. In this post, we’ll take a look at some lessons about leadership and team management that are inspired by the fire house, but applicable to the boardroom.

General Leadership Tips

A firefighter is a part of a team, and teamwork is required to keep everyone safe and get the job done. But that same firefighter is an individual member of the team. As an individual, there are some qualities that help them become a better teammate, and better prepare them to face whatever challenges their day may throw at them. 

  • Use Your Energy Wisely — A firefighter is going to have a lot more energy when they first arrive on the scene than they do once they’ve exerted physical effort and exposed themselves to heat and smoke. It’s important that they make the most of that energy, because it won’t last long. The same thing goes for your work day. In the morning, when you are fresh and full of energy, is the best time to tackle difficult tasks. Waiting until the day has dragged on and fatigue has set in will only make the task more difficult. 
  • Prioritize Effectively — In some ways, this tip is a continuation of the last one. Determining which are the most pressing issues you are facing in the day and prioritizing them properly will ensure that the ones that require the most attention are the ones you’ll be tackling when you’re at your most alert. Prioritizing also helps to make sure your biggest problems don’t go unsolved due to procrastination.
  • Create a Buffer — With large enough blazes, firefighters rely on firebreaks to help them control the inferno. These may be fire resistant doors that automatically close, or trenches dug by the firefighters to stop the spread of a wildfire. The important thing is that there’s a buffer which creates a safety zone. Ridding yourself of distractions is a way to create your own buffer, and let you put the time and energy needed into getting the job done. 
  • Always Be Prepared — This is the Boy Scout motto, but it applies equally well to firefighters and CEOs. A firefighter must arrive early and ensure that all their equipment is functional if they are going to successfully put out fires. Planning your day, or even week, out in advance lets you stay prepared for the ordinary events that happen, so you aren't already overwhelmed when the need to put out a fire arises. 
  • Set a Good Example — A firefighter needs to be calm under pressure and understand the proper usage of every piece of equipment on their truck. More importantly, they need their team to do the same. By remaining calm under pressure, and teaching others the little tricks of the trade that they’ve picked up, firefighters help ensure their safety and that of their team. A leader at your company, you should provide the same type of example and mentorship to your employees. 
  • Be Proactive — If a fire marshal sees a building that is filled with too many people, and the fire exits are all being blocked, they are going to speak up. There is no fire, but should one occur, the fire marshal wants to ensure that the situation remains as safe as possible. They will behave similarly in situations that may cause a fire to start. Firefighters don’t wait for fires to start before taking steps to prevent them, and neither should you. Handle warning signs as quickly as possible before they erupt into flames.

Team Management Tips

The next set of tips is about becoming a better team manager. There are steps you can take to help your staff engage more productively with one another, and with you. 

  • Be Flexible — The concept of being agile is a bit of a buzzword in many industries, but the ability to adapt on the fly to changing conditions is vital. By being flexible in the way you let your teams approach a problem, you are preventing the type of rigid thinking that prevents teams from become truly agile. 
  • Standardize Processes — This next one may seem like a contradiction of the first. Allowing leeway in the way a task is handled is not the same as letting chaos reign. There must be a method to the madness. Therefore, there should be some standard processes in place that help the team decide which direction they’ll take at any given moment, even if the direction itself is flexible.
  • Establish a Command Structure — Most businesses have a hierarchical command structure. CEOs are the boss of upper management, who are the boss of middle management, and so on. This is fine, and necessary to keep order. But any given task also needs individual leadership. By allowing the person with the most experience to take point on a task and be the decision maker, you are providing their colleagues with the direction they need from the person most qualified to give it.
  • Hold Team Members Accountable — Some managers are too good at this, deflating team morale. Others aren’t good enough, and let a few bad apples ruin the bunch. It’s important to take notice of any team members who are dropping the ball and pull them aside for a talk. Unless they are repeat offenders, this needn’t feel confrontational. Whenever possible, provide guidance rather than chastising.
  • Avoid Silos - It’s not uncommon for businesses to have different departments work seperately from one another, but any good firefighter can tell you that you never know when someone’s skill set might come in handy. The most agile companies have already learned that letting departments work together on problems instead of in isolation makes the best use of everyone’s talents. 

Building a Better Team

As the CEO, it isn’t enough for you to have the knowledge of great teamwork. It’s also important that you upskill your workforce, so they are also making the most of their day at work, and helping you to keep those fires under control. Our Learning Management System (LMS) can help assure your team is as skilled as they need to be to operate at peak efficiency. You can see a demo of the system here.

About Platinum Group

Platinum Group is a human capital management resource with solutions to help you streamline operations so you’ll have time to manage your business. No matter which division you work with: Payroll/HR or Accounting, our team is built upon a foundation of support, service, camaraderie and collaboration that we share both in-house and with our wonderful clients. For more information about Platinum Group, or to schedule a demo of iSolved, please visit our website.

Tags: Payroll & Human Resources Platinum Group HR Agile Workforce Growth Mindset

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Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

Michael is the founder of Platinum Group. His passion is in helping businesses to simplify their employee management and accounting processes.