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The CEO Is 10,000 Feet Above The Fire

   By: Larry Galler

How many times have you heard a business owner or manager say that they spend their workday “always sweating at putting out fires?” I hear it all the time.

Think of a raging forest fire. There are sweaty fire fighters working hard, just yards in front of the flames. There is one person in a helicopter 10,000 feet above the flames. Those on the ground and the one in the helicopter are all looking at the same fire but they have totally different views. Those on the ground are “putting out fires.” The one in the helicopter is directing the fire fighting effort.

In business, even the smallest of businesses, the CEO directs the fire fighting effort. That person must have a vision of the future and direct the troops on the ground in the proper direction. If the CEO gets down on the ground and picks up an axe to put out the current fire, while that effort may be beneficial, who is insuring the future?

In small businesses, owners and managers must spend time and effort at work on the front lines, but many are so busy “putting out fires” that they never make the time to go up in the helicopter and see the whole fire. To do it, the CEO must discover the changing winds of the marketplace to best utilize the assets available so they are not overspent on dying embers (completed projects) when they are needed on a flare-up (hot opportunity) somewhere else. The CEO must look beyond today and prepare for tomorrows battles whether fluctuations in the cost of fuel, changing whims of fashion, or increased competition.

If only for a little while every week, get into that helicopter. Look towards the future, plan for it, and guide your troops to contain the fires. You might not get so sweaty but youÂ'll be doing a great job for your company.

Larry Galler coaches and consults with high-performance executives, professionals, and small businesses since 1993. He is the writer of the long-running (every Sunday since November 2001) business column, "Front Lines with Larry Galler" Sign up for his free newsletter at

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