Hi Marilyn O’Hearne here with weekly wisdom, today talking about the danger of only focusing on fires. In our rapidly changing complex VUCCA world (volatile, uncertain, culturally complex and ambiguous) we run into fires all the time. I was reminded of this in a conversation with a leadership coaching client this past week. That’s how the leader is spending a lot of their time, focusing on putting out fires that continue to erupt. It is hard to move forward when we are only focusing on fires. In this leader’s case, the fires flaming were workplace conflicts resulting from not taking into consideration different gender and generational communication styles. Other clients’ fires include voiced resentments or lack of engagement due to unclear team expectations, trying to do it all rather than delegating to and developing others, and not sorting out competing priorities. 

How are you responding to the huge “fires” around us now? How are you taking time to both process grief and care for yourself, your family, your team while staying energized for the work we have in front of us as communities, organizations, nations, the world?

The danger is that if we are only focusing on fires then we are not taking the time to focus on vision, which is what pulls us forward, that motivates and energizes people. As you know, employees stay in organizations that have a strong vision that’s clearly communicated and acted on, and they know their part in contributing to that vision. That is why people stay with companies and organizations and in their jobs. That is more important than the money. It is the vision and the value they know they are providing towards that inspiring vision that matters most. This carries over to leadership in the community and family as well. Have my leadership and team coaching clients been able to put out the fires? Yes, through coaching by addressing the root causes and staying energized by focusing on and communicating the energizing vision and each person’s contribution toward realizing it.

“That’s clearly communicated and acted on” with everyone knowing their part in contributing to that vision is so important today. With many #blacklivesmatter statements of solidarity being posted, people are watching to see if the organizations’ actions and words align with their statements reflecting their vision and values.

I have had had some circumstances (“fires”) in my life pop up that could pull me away from my vision and if I stay focused on them then I can get discouraged. Maybe you can relate to this too. You heard about my “why” and and how closely my vision aligns with that of EthicalCoach. My opportunity to go to Ethiopia with them for the 2018 NGO Leadership Coaching Summit was amazing and so exciting. And right before I left I had a little health concern and the unrest in Ethiopia that had been only around the the borders moved to the capital where we were going to be working. I could not let that “fire” be my focus and get discouraged and worried.

Instead I kept my focus on what we were going there for (the vision):  to contribute to capacity building, to unlock potential so that all can live in prosperity and peace. That is my vision and it really helped me in my pre trip departure to focus on that vision rather than concerns about safety or health (“fires”).

And another example from my personal life is my grandson. He was diagnosed with a rare heart defect and had to have open heart surgery at three months and his recovery continues. That was pretty overwhelming news to our family and we could have kept the focus there. I loved what the pediatric cardiologist said, that his job was to help Theo stay healthy and “be his Theo self.” To reach his full potential. And from his decades of experience the children where the family was weeping and wailing at the hospital bedside, focusing on the “fire”, the children did not fare as well as the families who were positively focusing on the child’s future. We focus positively on his present and future: the vision of a healthy, active boy, and how we can contribute to that.

You have a choice: of focusing only on putting out fires which can be discouraging and overwhelming or also focusing on an energizing vision to pull you and your team, family, organization, community forward. Which do you choose? How will you carve out time for focusing on and communicating your vision and values and how everyone can contribute to that?

Leaders and teams, want to sharpen your focus, vision and way forward in these uncertain times for greater success? Contact me for a strategy session.

Coaches: How is your focus? Take you and your vision to the next level in our Culturally Confident Credentialing Mentor Coaching Program! Join our next global cohort to renew & advance your coaching & credentialing (is it expiring?) while earning ICF Continuing Coach Education and Mentor Coaching with cutting edge cultural intelligence, part of the updated ICF competencies which will be used for assessments beginning June 2021.

Coaching and Coaching Supervision can help you stay focused and energized by your vision, rather than the exhaustion of focusing only fires.

To our potential, prosperity and peace-we are in this together!

Thanks and see you next week,

Marilyn O’Hearne, MSW, MCC, LLC

CQ Master Certified Coach, International Coach Federation

#Unlockallpotential so all can live in prosperity and peace

PS The examples I have just provided were out of my control. Leaders can minimize the number of fires that pop up daily by clearly communicating their vision, values, related strategies and each person’s contributions to achieving the vision.

PSS I have felt discouraged by racial injustices leading to death. #blacklivesmatter is a big fire that’s smoldered and flamed for centuries and deserves our focus. My hope and energy increase when I focus on the vision of an equitable nation and world where all can reach their potential and live in prosperity and peace and when I see the number and diversity globally of those speaking up for solidarity and systemic change, hear some positive examples of this and consider how I might contribute. When I speak of peace, it goes beyond lack of war or destructive conflict to an inner peace that comes with living a life that is true to values and vision. It also conveys a harmony that comes with oneness or unity with others and spiritually.

www.marilynoh.com [email protected]marilynoh.com



Originally published October 17,1998 and updated July 3, 2019; June 9, 2020; February 23, 2021