Light a Fire under Your Business

“Lighting a fire under your business by igniting a Class 1 Culture not only improves your organization but also ultimately enhances your brand by giving your leaders, your workforce, and your customers a good feeling about what you do and why you do it.”

- Light a Fire under Your Business, page 164

If anyone knows anything about the raw power of fires and how to manage them effectively, it’s authors Tom Pandola and Jim Bird. Both men are former firefighters who became exceptionally effective business leaders after their firefighting days were over. Their aptly titled book, Light a Fire Under Your Business takes the principles, strategies and tactics they learned during their firefighting careers and illustrates how those same management and leadership principles can work to create a high performing organizational culture no matter what business you are in.

Each chapter opens with a vivid account of a firefighting situation or challenge faced by Tom Pandola, which serves to underscore the chapter’s key messages and lessons to be learned. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how firefighters work together to effectively combat fires, protect property and save lives. I found it extremely insightful and inspiring and I think you will too!

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Choose to be First Class

"Ultimately, the Class 1 Culture is about strategy, tactics, teamwork, and a positive attitude."
- Light a Fire under Your Business, page 161

In the world of firefighting, Class 1 is the highest rating a fire department can achieve (10 is the lowest). It means the men and women in that department are the best at what they do and are committed to doing things to the highest of standards. A Class 1 Culture is predicated on the premise that everyone will succeed or fail together. The sports adage, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” closely mirrors this mindset.

That said, the first step towards creating a Class 1 Culture begins with the individual. Each of us must first choose to become first class before we can take the steps necessary to develop that capability. Once we decide on our destination – Class 1 Culture – we must commit to doing what is necessary to achieve that outcome. Success requires choice and commitment. One firefighter cannot create a Class 1 Culture any more than he or she can knock down a fire alone. The same holds true for business organizations. Every single employee must choose to be first class in their assigned role and commit to do whatever is necessary to create a first class organizational culture.

What does a Class 1 Culture look like for your organization? What can you do differently today to actively pursue that outcome?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

It Matters to Someone

"If it is important enough to do, it’s important enough to do it right."
- Light a Fire under Your Business, page 106

I remember being asked as a teenager, “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do it over?” It’s a hard lesson to learn. Pressures and distractions in the moment can negatively influence our choices so that we rush through one task simply to get to the next one – perhaps one we perceive has a higher level of importance. Sometimes this results in sub-standard work and we end up spending precious time fixing mistakes that could have been avoided had we been more diligent the first time. We need to unlearn this bad habit, reminding ourselves that while we may not see any value in the task we have been given, it matters to someone and should be done right.

Pandola recounts an extreme example of this lesson. He is part of a large contingent of firefighters battling a high rise fire and is assigned the task of extinguishing the flames on the second floor. As he hauls his hose to set up position he notices a man leaning out of a third story window screaming to be saved. He becomes conflicted. Should he drop what he is doing to save the man? What would you do?

He recalls his training and recommits himself to his assigned task – battling the second floor fires. His job is critical for ensuring the safety of colleagues working on the third floor and for the overall objective of quickly bringing the fire under control, ultimately saving more lives. It’s a tough decision but the right one. As he readies his equipment, he sees two other firefighters carrying a ladder running to rescue the man on the third floor.

Do you know why your job duties are important and who they are important to? How will you remind yourself to focus on doing the right things correctly?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Learn and Apply CPR for Business Success

"It empowers individuals and teams to deliver high-performance results by making good decisions to get the right things done for the right reasons and at the right time."
- Light a Fire under Your Business, page 32

CPR for business success stands for command, plan, respond. While the term ‘command’ often conjures up images of top-down decision-making and dictatorial leadership styles, the authors use it to describe the responsibility each and every employee has to take charge of their assigned tasks to ensure success.

When a Battalion Chief arrives at a fire scene, he assumes command of the situation by completing five critical tasks:

  1. Conducting a Situational Assessment – understanding the immediate circumstances and identifying the available and needed resources to address the challenge.
  2. Establishing Two-way Communication – with everyone involved to ensure information is accurate, succinct and focused on the task at hand.
  3. Describing Success – for the overall project and for smaller milestones.
  4. Setting and Prioritizing Goals – focus energy and resources on the most important things.
  5. Being Accountable – accept responsibility for all results, good and bad.

Everyone can assume command over their designated assignments by executing these steps. Once you’re firmly in command, you will have the information you need to develop a specific plan of action and respond to implementation challenges with the ‘will do’ attitude of a Class 1 Culture. Your decisions and actions will naturally focus on the right things at the right time.

How can you apply CPR for business success to your work? Which of the five command steps needs more of your attention?

Like many of the business books I read and summarize, Light a Fire under Your Business packs a lot of wisdom between the covers. Pandola and Bird outline a number of other useful management processes and techniques that will be invaluable to leaders and teams at all levels of an organization. They illustrate how these strategies and tactics work in action using stories from their firefighting days as well as examples from the corporate world. The result is an inspirational and instructive ‘how-to’ manual for igniting a new way of working together.

The authors sum it up best when they state, “When any workforce believes that what they do is important, and that doing it well always matters to someone, they will have the best opportunity to go from ordinary performance to extraordinary performance.” So…are you ready to light a fire under your business?

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Dianne Coppola

ABOUT Dianne Coppola

I am passionate about leadership development, change management, community collaboration and…reading! I’ve been writing for the Actionable Book Club since 2014 and love to share my book insights with folks like you...
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