Do you prefer a Firefighter or an Invisible Superhero?

| Josh Rossmeisl | Team Articles

Who doesn’t love a firefighter?  They are heroes who risk their lives to fight fires and save people.  In the hospitality industry, we have a different definition of “firefighter”.

Firefighters put out fires quickly and save the day for all to see.  Their team loves it when they swoop in and extinguish fires for them.  They get high-fives and are showered with recognition.  These firefighters derive a sense of purpose and satisfaction from their actions, and in their minds, they are heroes.  

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What’s the difference between a firefighter and a true  “Superhero” in the hospitality industry?  

Invisible Superheroes solve problems before they ever happen.  Their “spidey-senses” tell them an issue may occur and they actively work to avoid it so they don’t have to reveal their inner “firefighter”.  They are never in the news and don’t look for recognition or accolades for their actions. It’s a thankless job and they are okay with that.  

Most of those new to leadership, who are used to running around in the trenches, believe their job is to put out fires. In fact, they justify their existence in their world by doing so, because after all, they are getting paid handsomely and they need to pull their weight.  They want to prove to everyone that they are part of the team and if they aren’t directly serving the guest, they are serving the team.  Making sure they extinguish fires is their mission...or so they think.  

So many hospitality companies prefer the firefighter.  They want these leaders who are able to keep running into the building to put out fires. They reward them handsomely for this, but don’t realize the unintended consequences of doing this. Over time, putting out the same fires over and over again becomes exhausting.  It’s no longer rewarding, and as the novelty wears off, the team stops celebrating the firefighter for their actions.

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There is always a smarter, faster and better way. 

I personally prefer an Invisible Superhero.  The ones who put out a fire once and spend their time figuring out how it started and how to prevent it from ever happening again.  They will spend 4 hours to solve a 5 minute problem because they see into the future and realize the 5 minute problem that occurs 10 times a day and impacts 20 team members 365 days a year is worth an investment of time to prevent.  They are trusted that they empower their team to solve problems even if they miss the mark from time to time. 

Trust is the highest form of human motivation. 

Firefighters who say “I’ll just do it myself” because they feel they are the only ones skilled enough to handle it are part of the problem.  I would argue they are the cause of the fire.  Invisible Superheroes invest in teaching others to be self-sufficient and invest in communication to talk about the problem and empower the team to solve the issue. They invest time in processes and reinforcing the idea that everyone is as capable as they are and trusted enough to snuff out a problem before it becomes a fire.   

Take action.  It can only suck once, or it can be the best thing we've ever done.

Cultures where “it’s not a problem until it’s a problem” breed firefighters. They think just because they pay a lot of money, the firefighters are okay with repeatedly taking the hits and will never leave.  Their only “carrot” is cash versus a culture where leaders are encouraged to grow themselves and those around them.

Those with true purpose don’t have time to put out fires. They see the “big picture” and are part of something far more rewarding than being a firefighter.  When leaders are given a purpose that is bigger than themselves and believe in their ability to contribute, putting out fires becomes a waste of time.  They want to give their teams purpose and invest their time into building their future through learning and development. This is how leaders can grow a business and creates the baseline for a culture of true empowerment.

We need more Invisible Superheroes in this industry.  It starts at the top.  You get what you reward. 

 


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