Traditional leadership styles look very much like a fire chief barking orders at his team over the radio as they battle the flames of a 4-alarm fire. Many executives, in fact, pride themselves on their ability to take control of emergency situations and resolve them. All too often, such emergency measures become everyday ordinary. Executives run from meeting to meeting resolving issues that their teams are unable to solve on their own.

This session will look at the anti-patterns and impacts of using emergencies as justification for command-and-control, and at the possibilities that emerge for us as leaders and as organizations when we choose not to engage in firefighting, but focus instead on fire prevention and fire drills.


Outline/Structure of the Keynote

An executive justified his command-and-control leadership style: "If the house is burning down, you can’t stand around and wait for everyone to come to agreement on what to do."

Already we have two failures:

  1. Our team doesn’t know what to do in case of a fire
  2. We have fires all the time

This talk will walk through both of these failures as well as the failures that cause them. It will examine the shift in outcomes when we choose to focus on instead on coaching up self-organizing teams--teams well-practiced in the decision-making that prevents fires and quickly snuffs out any that do flare up.

Learning Outcome

  • We shouldn’t celebrate the fires we have fought. We should celebrate the ones that never happened.
  • Emergencies are not an excuse for command-and-control leadership. Self-organizing teams operating on agile principles continue to be more effective than any centrally led one, even in the heat of the moment.
  • Putting an end to the fires may require letting some things burn while we shift from a reactive stance to a creative one.

Target Audience

Any leader who spends their days running from fire to fire, or anyone who works for one

schedule Submitted 3 years ago