No matter how good you are, even the best leaders can find themselves off course for two reasons. We call them fires and fireflies.
Fires (the daily emergencies that require immediate attention) and fireflies (the shiny objects that catch our attention) are inherent to management. You can’t escape them, but you also have to know how to handle them so they don’t derail your strategy.
But sometimes you find yourself chasing one fire after another. Good managers respond quickly and effectively to the fires that pop up in front of them. That’s good! No good leader would leave a fire to fester or grow that stands in the way of your goals.
And (let’s be real about this) it’s fun! There’s immediate gratification for solving problems on the spot. It’s rewarding to come up with creative new solutions. Fires and fireflies are reasons to love the job.
Good strategic management also requires that you create a clear destination and plan for how to get there. We think of it like setting course across a vast, grassy field. The plan you write becomes the north star to get to the correct point on the far side of the field. A good plan includes your projects, metrics, and helps you prioritize to stay on track.
However, sometimes those fires do not actually stand between you and the side of the field you are working toward. You risk distraction from the true goal. You need a plan to help prioritize which brush fires get resources and which sparks need containment before they cause more distraction.
Fighting fires is a necessary part of business. A plan helps to ensure they do not become too distracting, draining, or slow forward progress.
The other inevitable of good management is fireflies. As a leader, you want to keep an ear to the ground for best practices. You read articles to stay on top of trends and look for ways to get or stay ahead. Chasing the new shiny opportunity can either be a sign of agility (great!) or a distraction (boo!).
Having a clear plan with well-defined strategies keeps teams in alignment and on track. As new opportunities—or fireflies—arise, simply check them against the plan. Either it is a distraction that will take you off course, or it’s a better path forward, in which case just change the plan! Consider waiting until your monthly or quarterly plan check-in to evaluate the fireflies that have popped up along the way. If it’s a good idea now, it will still be a good idea in three months.
Plans aren’t static, they should adjust and move with you. The benefit of having a good working plan is that it makes strategies clear, aids prioritization, enables agility, and helps communicate across the team. The result is an aligned team whose efforts and investments are focused on a shared north star.
Look for fireflies. Fight the fires. But keep an eye toward the plan, lest you find yourself on the wrong side of the field.