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Skills Of A Good Manager - Putting Out Fires

By Emilie Shoop (1015 words)
Posted in Management on January 17, 2013

There are (8) comments permalink

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By Emilie Shoop, Creator and Leader of Shoop Training & Consulting

When you step into your role as manager, there is a lot to learn, a lot to do, and it is easy to get overwhelmed.  Almost everyone will tell you that the skills required by managers to learn right away include how to delegate effectively, manage your time wisely, focus on strategic direction, and so on.  So will I.  No matter what else is going on, all of those skills are crucial to your success. 


But… what happens when there is a fire that needs to be put out?  Do you just let it burn and say: “Sorry, I can’t help right now, I’ve got to get all these other skills perfect and I was told not to spend all my time putting out fires.”


Can you imagine the reaction you would get from your team?  Or your boss? 

They probably would not be too happy with you.  It could chip away at their trust in your ability to perform in your new role.  And, it might result in plain old hurt feelings which are never good at work.


While you should not spend all of your time as a new manager (or seasoned manager for that matter) putting out fires, you do need to from time to time.  Especially in the beginning when everyone is getting to know you and you are getting to know them.  To be successful in the long run, you will need to find ways to put out fires less often, but try not to stress out about that too much in the beginning.


Last month, I took over as President of a professional women’s organization in my area.  Now I am the new manager.  My board is getting to know me, getting to know each other and how to operate.  The members are looking at me to lead them through an amazing year as I promised it would be.  As our first official member meeting is approaching, I am getting hit with fires left and right.

“What do we do about this?”

“Did you know that we didn’t have that?”

“Who is taking care of…?”


At first I was surprised, but then I realized that although some of them have been in their position for a while, it is my first time being their manager.  They are concerned with living up to my expectations for them in their roles.  They also are not sure what to expect out of me.


Here Are Five Ways To Put Out Fires As A New Manager:

1) Respond Promptly  

Some of the fear, urgency, stress, you name it is just from the person with the problem thinking they are all alone on it.  If you receive a phone call or email, be sure to acknowledge the problem as quickly as possible.


2) Include The Right People

With the ease of email, it seems like a small fire can turn into a wildfire with a couple clicks of the mouse.  More often than not, there are way too many people included in emails not only wasting time, but just making things more confusing.  Resolve this by replying to all that you will be handling the issue with Joe, Andrew, and Sue.  Then, keep your correspondence to just those involved. 


3) Keep The Team In The Loop. 

Even though you worked on the problem with the right individuals, everyone will want to know how the situation was resolved.  This will help them not only understand how you lead, but how to handle the next fire on their own (if possible).


4) Get Proactive

After the fire is out, take a step back and look to see where you could avoid that the next time.  For my situation, I didn’t realize that our webmaster didn't have everything she needed.  Now I know that each person who is to get her a piece of information knows their responsibility for next time.


5) Remain Calm

It is so easy to take on someone else’s stress, concern, or panic as your own.  You are in charge of leading the team now, and how you react to fires has a big impact.  Showing that you are calm and navigate fires with ease will not only increase your trustworthiness, it will help fires disappear!


As the months go by, putting out fires will get easier and easier.  The easier it is to put out fires, the more time you have to work on other skills of a good manager: strategic direction, how to delegate effectively, time management, and so on.  Try to learn and grow from each fire and you are headed in the right direction!


Written by Emilie Shoop
First Time Manager or Supervisor Expert for ManagingAmericans.com, Creator and Leader of Shoop Training & Consulting


Are you a new manager?  Post your questions for Emilie, she is here to help- Ask an Expert.


Here are some related articles you may be interested in: 

Six Practices to Incorporate Into Your Management Routine

What First Time Managers Need to Know to be Successful

Your Facial Expression Can Make or Break You

Does anyone care if I show up?




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Comments (8)

Nand Kishore Pandey posted on: January 19, 2013

To put out fires as a new Manager, he should have good fire extinguishers (team members), should know the cause of fire and should know the techniques to control the fires timely before it causes loss in various ways.

Darryl Clements posted on: January 19, 2013

I'd recommend following the ASK model. 1) Ask questions to get to the bottom of the "fire" issues. It's important to know what specifically is being requested, why you're being asked to resolve it, and who and how best to resolve the problem. Answering or addressing fires without the context is dangerous. 2) Start with an immediate plan, but make it clear that your solution is to address the truly dangerous part of the "fire" situation at hand. Again, you might be able to put out surface fires, but if it's buried in the walls or trapped in several layers, you may not be best suited to put out the fire. 3) Keep others involved beyond communication. Again, you may not be capable of putting out the whole fire even if you're the person in charge. That said, you can keep people involved and hold them accountable for their actions and participation in addressing matters. That could also include asking what's been done that's working and just needs a little push. Don't allow people to create or point out fires without helping put them out.

Amy Beth Miller posted on: January 19, 2013

"As the months go by, putting out fires will get easier and easier." As the months go by, there should be fewer fires. As the author mentions under "Get Proactive," the manager should put systems in place to avoid problems. The manager also should train team members to deal with situations themselves. Instead of doling out answers and issuing orders, the manager should ask "What do you think we should do?" If the manager always takes on the role of problem-solver, team members won't step up and they won't be as engaged. Be a coach, not a firefighter.

One skill that is mentioned for good managers but seems to be overlooked in articles for new managers is the need to give frequent feedback. If managers don't start that habit immediately, their employees won't perform as well as they can, and the manager will be overwhelmed when the time arrives to deliver annual performance reviews.

Harvey Kellogg posted on: January 20, 2013

"Get Proactive", how true those two words are. I do not need to ask why am I called upon to resolve the problem, it is in my job scope.
Understand why the fire started set SOP's and teach how to resolve it to those who work with you.
Then you no longer need to fight fires, you have a trained team that can avoid the sparks in the first place.

Matthew Arnold posted on: February 5, 2013

I would suggest that the role of a good manager is ensuring they understand their and their team's purpose, understand the how the work flows, and (re)design it in such as way as to reduce, and then eliminate, fires.

Al Bainbridge posted on: February 5, 2013

I recommend this to anybody who aspires to becoming a good manager and those already 'managing' under pressure.
'The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey'. written by Kenneth Blanchard, William, Jr. Oncken and Hal Burrows.
Hope it helps. It did me!

Reem posted on: April 8, 2013

Thank you for the fantastic insights! I agree, being a good manager isn't an easy task. Here's a list of five things that should be on the “to-do” list of every great manager http://goo.gl/VmU5Y.

Mike Loshe posted on: September 18, 2013

Thanks for the share! Being able to read emotions is also a key quality in many good managers. Just recently I took a emotional intelligence training course my company offered and I feel like I am a completely new person. Not only can I more effectively accommodate employees but I have found new was to motivate them which has really increased the quality of my company work.

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