fire prevention

we are arsonists.  that’s a phrase i heard from an executive at a company for  which i once worked.  he was right.  we create our own issues, problems, troubles, and when the flicker becomes an inferno we call in the fire department to douse the flames.

senior executives are masterful at creating such chaos. candles lit and knocked over in every room.take for instance planning for meetings.  these executives know they have a meeting, it’s been on their calendar for months but by the time i get the memo the fire has spread to the adjacent building and i’m in a mad panic searching for an extinguisher.

last thursday at 5am i received a request from a senior leader to “send the slides by 11am.”  the content owners are notoriously late despite my pleas, reprimands, and attempts at public shaming.  their slides are due on wednesday, but invariably i receive incorrectly formatted documents late thursday afternoon.  i explain to the exec that i will send what i have but not all content has been delivered, although it is now a day late. the executive advises, “drive them” and then proceeds to instruct me to review the slides “with a fine-toothed comb.” mmhmm.  mind you i am neither the content owner nor the project manager but i am tasked with content review, like an english teacher, checking for mistakes and omissions.

this last minute request is occupying my mental space so by the time i reach my next meeting i am in no mood for incompetence and foolery.  but the team does not disappoint.  for the 4th week straight the team is still missing key details yet no one on the phone can tell me why we are failing so miserably. i nearly lose my shit when i ask who owns a particular task and get crickets in response. another fire burning.

for the past 6 weeks i’ve found myself racing from 3-alarm to 5-alarm fires, checking email on sunday night, attempting to tamp down the embers before monday morning. but something clicked this weekend. i decided that sunday will no longer be a work day, but it will be my sabbath. it will not be my “prep for the next work day,” rather it will be my opportunity to gather myself spiritually so that i can devise a winning strategy for the work week.

i am not a firefighter. i cannot carry a 70lb pack on my back up a ladder  while hoisting a hose with thousands of pounds of pressure coursing through it, and i’m certainly not running into a burning building. i am more of a fire prevention specialist, like smokey the bear, identifying the arsonist and the triggers that cause them to light and toss that first match.

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