Would you agree there is at least a spectrum of trash fires? From least to most terrible? Yes, I agree human systems are messy and chaotic, and the adage “you don’t want to watch the sausage being made” applies to many kinds of work. But it’s not binary — some places are far less insane and dysfunctional than others, and it’s no accident.

Becoming a manager for the first time long ago revealed to me how much of what a good manager does is shield their staff from the raging parts of the trash fire and that being a leader meant being in many terrible/absurd/idiotic discussions with senior management, often to end them (the discussions, not the executives :), or at least make it so no one my staff had to deal with the distractions they generated. And often it’s necessary to do it discretely, with the team barely knowing that the project, and it’s resources, were ever in jeopardy at all.

In the healthier parts of any org is a commitment from leaders to be fire absorbers, or fire fighters, working to carve out paths so that people can do work worrying less about their own safety, and more about solving real problems.

Bestselling Author of The Myths of Innovation, Making things Happen, Confessions of a Public Speaker and other fine books

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