Small Business Owners: Are You Putting Out Fires or Leading Your Team?

Kristen David, a former trial lawyer and partner who went from working 85 hours a week and barely making ends meet, built it up to a million-dollar-plus business, then sold her shares and pivoted into a business coach guru. She is now an international speaker, and bestselling author, and operates a successful coaching firm, empowering business owners to build thriving, profitable businesses that are self-managed with systems. She helps busy business owners build those systems by implementing policies and procedures the Fast Track Way. Learn more at

Do you find yourself putting out fires daily? Unfortunately, the answer to that is often “yes.” 

Small business owners have so much on their plates, and it’s incredibly easy to get sucked into the daily “fires” that pop up. Much of the time, it’s not because you actually enjoy being involved in them, but because you feel like you’re the only one that can handle them.

When you take on that mindset, however, there is only one possible result: you won’t be able to be the leader you need to be.

Think about it: does the Fire Chief personally put out all the fires? (The answer is “no,” and there’s a good reason for it.)

So many managers are ineffective because they throw themselves into the place of always fighting the fires. I get it – I used to be one of them. During those years, I didn’t have time to lead my team because I was always knee-deep in the trenches.

And to be honest, it sucked.

Some days, it felt like a new issue would arise every hour, and there was just never enough time to get to the projects that could move the business forward. Instead, I was running everywhere handling the fires that would erupt. I felt like I could barely come up for air.

Is this sounding familiar?

Responding to every fire can make you feel like you’re on top of things, but those fires can too easily take over a business owner’s life. We become blind to opportunities to grow because we become consumed with handling daily issues. 

And even when there is no fire, we can fall into the rut of putting them out that we start reframing minor issues as major problems – just so we have something to put out.

I’m going to put it bluntly: this is not who your team needs you to be. Instead, they need you to lead.

Leaders choose to let someone else handle the little daily fires so they can look at the bigger picture. (Yes, you’ll need to have team members to help you take care of the little things, but this is key to the growth of your business.)

But the question remains: how do you make that transition? 

  1. Address the fire once and determine how to best resolve it. In other words, evaluate what caused the issue and how it can be fixed.
  2. Document a plan and instruct your team how you would like that fire addressed in the future.
  3. Move on and never go back to fighting this fire. (That can be the hardest part, but it’s essential.)

If you find these steps challenging, take a moment to ask yourself:

  • How many “fires” have you put out over the past few months that you shouldn’t have had to touch?
  • What systems can you put in place and which people will be in charge of handling them?
  • Where can your team help you streamline processes so you don’t feel the need to step back into firefighting?

Put down your firefighting gear and shift to being a leader that helps orchestrate how to handle those daily fires. This isn’t something that will happen overnight, but by deciding to be intentional about building your systems and making that transition, you can make that leap!

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