Here’s how I define “fire-fighting leadership”: leading by always working to put out fires before they get too hot and burn too much. To be honest, I think I can speak to this topic because I far too often led that way as a pastor. Perhaps this list of problems with this leadership style can help you evaluate your own leadership:
- Everything’s a potential emergency. You don’t want anything to get out of control, so you try to stay on top of everything—and deal with it with urgency—whether or not it’s yet a serious issue.
- When everything’s a potential emergency, it’s hard to recognize a real emergency when it does occur. And, it’s not easy to gain a needed hearing from others if they know you always exaggerate situations.
- “Faith” becomes more a religious word than a marker of one’s life. We can encourage others to walk by faith while never operating in faith ourselves. Firefighting leadership is most often only present tense.
- You never really experience the peace that God offers. Following Christ brings a peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7) – unless we allow circumstances of life to rob us of that joy. Fire-fighting leaders often find little rest in Christ.
- Casting a vision for an organization is almost impossible. It’s difficult to think about the future, see the potential of what God wants to do, and invite others to join you on the journey when you’re always focused on the immediate fire.
- You begin to assume negatively about people and situations. When you’re watching for fires, you can’t help but see “sparks” and smell smoke long before any fire erupts. In even the best situations, you’re just waiting for the first flicker of flame.
- Others who work with you get frustrated with your lack of direction and passion. They may still love and respect you, but they reach a point where they’re just longing for you to really lead them. They think you see more fires than are truly there.
- You describe a “good day” in terms of what didn’t happen rather than what did happen. That is, you’re just glad when you get through the day without dealing with a fire; thus, you often miss some positive things that God is doing.
What other firefighting leadership characteristics come to mind for you?