Get Involved When Things Go Right

Love, Philadelphia

There are times when every thing’s going well. Everyone’s doing their job, you’re doing your job, wheels are turning. Lovely.

And then a fire breaks out.

You jump into the fight to dowse flames and smash problems.

When Thing Go Wrong

Getting involved when things go wrong can be time consuming and draining, yet it’s a perversely thrilling part of leadership. (Don’t tell anyone I said this, but it’s kinda fun.)

Get sucked in too often though, let it become your standard operating procedure, and your team will see you as a professional fire fighter hanging on to a hose — more mess-cleaner-upper than makes-things-happener — and they’ll be right.

But leadership isn’t a fire truck and it’s not about hotspots.

It’s a bus on a journey to some place new.

Sure, every vehicle needs a fire extinguisher and someone who knows how to use it, but it’s only for emergencies. When you gotta use it, you gotta use it, but most of the time you should concentrate on the road ahead.

When you focus your attention on things that drive the bus along, not only do you put more time into making the most difference, you’re also showing everyone what should be at the top of their to-do list.

Get Involved When Things Go Right

A great way to shift emphasis is to get involved when things go right.

Look for anything that contributes forward motion and celebrate every success you see. I’m not saying overdose on awards or go party mad, just sprinkle a little fairy dust to make the good stuff sparkle.

  • Go see a customer who’s just signed up for more business. Ask what your company is doing right. Spread the word.
  • Sit in on a project meeting. Stay quiet. At the end of the meeting say you’re excited about the project and they should keep at it.
  • Talk about progress whenever you can. “Let me take one minute to update you on …”

Leaders must always be prepared to haul on some breathing apparatus and step into the heat, but the most effect you can have (and the most fun to be had), is where things are going right.

Neatly filed under Leading,Skippiness on November 18, 2010
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4 cracking comments

Marc Sokol on November 18, 2010 at 6:04 am

Well put, Nick.

Turnarounds and fire fighting are often the ‘stuff’ that many people think of as leadership in action. Important as that is at the time when needed, the real task is to establish a smooth running sustainable operation, that can even function well in the absence of the leader.

After years of reading and assessing the resumes of leaders, I’m still waiting to see a candidate with the gumption to state something like:

“Stepped into a leadership role where the business was performing well and I had the good sense NOT to muck it up. Focused my efforts on recognizing, reinforcing and sustaining a great operation while helping align/grow the business elsewhere”

And that person will advance to the next round of interviews!

Adrian Swinscoe on November 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Hi Nick,
I completely agree and love Marc’s suggestion about a leader commenting on their CV about what they did when things were going right :) that would really make someone stand out in my book.

Why is it then, do you think, that leadership commonly seems to be played out as something that is primarily about solving problems or fighting fires? Is it to do with our psyche?


Martin Hill-Wilson on November 23, 2010 at 12:17 am

Yes and no.

I can think of so called leaders who avoid things going south like the plague and only show up to glean the glory

Michael Cowen on November 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Lol – that would be a CV worth looking at Marc.

Martin – I think those are politicians you are talking about.

Once again a nice clear thought Nick. Leaders so often forget to lead when things are going well.

What do you think? ...