I don’t know if they still teach kids this, but when I was in grade school we were taught if you are ever on fire, don’t run . . . stop, drop and roll.
Hmmm. That advice might be just as applicable in a Leadership 101 course. You don’t have to be in a leadership position all that long to realize that sooner or later (or maybe both) it’s going to feel like your world is on fire . . . your contracts have been slashed, there’s a crisis in your agency, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place . . . and everyone is looking to you to find the soft place to land.
While it might seem like a natural reaction to scurry from point to point looking for something to douse the flames, in most cases your frantic actions will only serve to feed the blaze. When you hyperventilate, so will everyone else in your agency, right?!? What to do? The same thing they told you when you were 10 . . . stop, drop and roll.
When you are faced with a situation that (at least feels like) could lead to your organization’s demise, Stop. Breathe. Think. Don’t just blindly run from here to yonder looking for solutions. You need to keep your wits about you . . . so stop. And then drop.
Drop down and focus on the ground level, the foundation, of your organization — your vision, mission, values and operating principles. This is the solid place where you can take a deep breath and draw strength. The air may have been thin and your legs shaky when you were trying to dash around through the smoke and flames of the crisis. When you drop down to the solid ground that has supported your organization through thick and thin, you can better see the big picture view and keep the crisis du jour in context. And once you have that perspective, it is time to roll.
As the leader, you have to look past the fire before you and roll in the direction that provides the best opportunity to extend your mission reach. Do you sometimes have to roll through the flames to get there? Yep. Will there be those who will tell you that you are headed in the wrong direction? Most likely. Keep your eyes on the prize, and roll!
If you want to be a leader, you will have fires to deal with on a fairly regular basis; and even the best leaders get scorched from time to time. The difference between getting a slight scorch and an irreparable burn? You’ve heard it for years . . . Stop, Drop and Roll.