Are you a happy firefighter?

Most small business owners are addicted to fixing problems.

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“I can’t figure out how to stop,” one owner said recently. “I fix problems all day every day – early in the morning into late in the evening. Sometimes  I come in tired and leave exhausted. The challenge of fixing the problems makes me feel great! But it’s like these things are unending – when I get rid of one, another pops up to take its place.”

If this strikes you as familiar, you’re not alone. In most small businesses, we fight fires each and every day. Whatever is most urgent becomes the focus of the hour or minute.  It feels good to make continuous progress in our business, and yet…are we really making progress?

Problems can flare up quickly

An important lesson can be found in the real firefighting that has taken place in the Western United States over the last few years. Following decades of constant and successful suppression of small blazes every year, suddenly forest fires became enormous and uncontrollable monsters – damaging tens of thousands of acres, significant amounts of property and endangering lives. What happened?

The addictive seasonal firefighting quietly stole resources and attention from the real problem that was slowly building up – too much fuel and too little water. Eventually the larger issue literally exploded onto the scene with disastrous consequences. Simply put, the problem was deeper than the solutions that were being applied.

In your business, could it be possible that you are just fixing surface issues as well?

A little cold water might help

If you find yourself stuck in firefighting mode, how might you get yourself unstuck and prevent a disaster? Like the real-life situation, you’ll need to build up your courage and sort the truly important goals from those urgent, pressing concerns. Take some action to mitigate the real issues. Involve your team in the solutions and resist the addiction to do it yourself – help them be successful making you successful!

Actions you can take today

  1. Find 30 minutes for some personal think time. Make a list of the problems that you would like to be gone forever from your business, especially those that present the greatest long term threat to your business’ success. Sort through the list and narrow it down to the top 3-5 items. If you believe that your business can fix these problems, try the next step.
  2. Get your top team together for 30 minutes and share your short list with them. Ask them how they see these important issues, and for some ideas on how these problems could be solved. Work with the team to figure out a plan of action, have regular updates with the group to understand where the business is, and provide help and support so your people can really make a difference.
chris hutchinson, CEO

chris hutchinson, CEO

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Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.