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Are you a fire starter or a fire fighter?

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

I am thinking of organisations of comparable size and nature that face the same challenges. Why do some coast whilst others strive? There will be many contributing factors, not least culture and leadership but one thing it won’t be is a lack of exceptional managers.

Exceptional managers are present in all organisations at all levels the difference is in some organisations they flourish and in others they are stiffed. The manager who was creative and innovative in one organisation moves to another and after two or three years hasn’t managed to take any thing forward.

Now hear is the surprise these managers thrive on benign neglect. In my experience it’s much easier to do things differently if you can operate under the radar. The expression that sums up this approach is ,” better to ask for forgiveness than permission”. If you are a first line or middle manager in a large organisation it is often possible to operate without close scrutiny simply because you’re one of many.

In a smaller organisation you are more visible making it harder to escape the attention of senior management if you are attempting something ,”risky” or unconventional. But it is still possible to operate out side the field of vision in a small organisation if the attention is focused elsewhere. This was my experience when I took over an undervalued, low status, rather neglected part of the business. I was left to get on with it because senior management had bigger problems to deal with.
Benign neglect doesn’t mean your boss is disinterested it’s more a case of a light touch the complete opposite of being micromanaged. But it not just about your boss, to make the most of this freedom to act it is necessary to win over finance and especially HR. Again the philosophy is don’t ask permission but  ask how you could successfully go about achieving what ever it is you want to do. No one knows how to get round the system better than it’s  guardians. Involving HR in solving the problem is more effective than locking horns.
Organisations that are places of innovation and progress are places that have fire starters and organisations that stifle initiative have fire fighters.

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