One of the things I talk a lot about with my executive coaching clients is the highest and best use of their time and attention. When they think about what they really need to accomplish and how they should be spending their time to do that they often see a gap. The gap is between what they should be spending their time and attention on and what they actually are spending it on.
When they itemize the lists on both sides of the equation they usually recognize that a lot of what sucks up their time and attention each week is fire drills. If you’re an executive or manager, you know what fire drills are. They’re the unexpected customer crises, data calls from the top or systems breakdowns that draw you into a vortex of email chains, impromptu meetings and circular conversations. Before you know it, you’ve turned over 10 or 20 hours of your week to stuff you had no idea was going to even come up on Monday morning. Fire drills make it really hard to stick with and follow through on all of those more strategic and value added uses of your time and attention.
How do you get out of the fire drill time suck? Appoint a fire marshal to handle them. If you think back on your own development, you’ve likely had fire drill experiences in your career that forged you into the leader you are today. You learned a lot from those fire drills.
Give the people on your leadership team the same opportunity. Every week or two, designate one of them as the fire marshal for the team. When a fire drill sounds, the fire marshal is the first responder. If it’s a brush fire, it’s their job to get it put out and maybe not even get you involved until they tell you it’s over. If it’s a raging forest fire, they should bring you in earlier but you should give them the space to coordinate the response. If half the state is on fire, then you should probably take the lead. The good news, though, is that most fire drills don’t require water drops from big huge planes. Most are smaller than that and probably don’t require your hands on attention.
So, if you’re tired of the fire drills, try appointing some fire marshals. They’ll get some valuable experience and knowledge and you’ll have more time to do the things you know you need to but never seem to have the time for.
What’s your take? What conditions would need to be in place for you to appoint some fire marshals?