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  • Cory McGowan

From Operational Firefighting to Spacious Leadership

People who run organizations, particularly founders and entrepreneurs have a lot at stake in how their companies run. Embarrassingly obvious observation perhaps, but it explains why so many leaders can stay stuck in operational firefighting well beyond its usefulness, and often to the detriment of the teams they lead.


A client of mine recently shared a great success story of how our work together has helped him move out of that operational firefighting and the great results that ensued. His organization manages multiple multimillion dollar properties, and literally in the heat of summer and with the properties full of summer vacation guests, the water stopped running. And in this crisis situation, rather than starting to bark out orders to all of his team about what needed to be done, he was able to receive the news cooly, step back, and let his people do what they do best. While he was available for consultation and support, he let his management team come up with ideas for solutions that he admitted he likely wouldn’t have been able to come up with on his own. All guests were informed, given tickets to nearby hot springs, vouchers for free meals, and within a day the problem was fixed. Worsened crisis averted, guests happy.

Photo: Joe Mather

What have we done together to have him get to this point in less than three months of the coaching engagement?

First, we have developed some practices that have helped him to step away from the constant state of activity he has been used to in all of his years as an operational mastermind. One in particular is what I call Daydream Walks - just taking 15-20 minutes on a regular basis for a walk with no purpose whatsoever - no destination, no podcast, no tracking heart rate, etc. The point is just to create some space, let your mind wander, and see what that opens up for you. It’s not another ‘to do’ activity, it’s a ‘to be’ activity.

Next, we have talked a lot about the vision of the future that he wants for himself. I often ask leaders to think about their fantastic future in 15 years, which allows them to really get into high level thoughts, but is too far off to actually slip into the planning that comes so naturally to those used to managing the day to day of organizations. We can then have some fun talking about what may need to be different in the short term for that long term vision to happen.

One of the areas we spend the most time on is the idea of being vs. doing. What this means is different for every leader, and can be quite confusing for people who are so often looked to to have the right answer for every problem that comes up, resulting in a mindset that effective leadership means doing all of the right things at the right time. Looking at a leader’s being means things like what presence they offer to their teams and what the impact of that is. Or perhaps how their way of being in their home/family life is effecting their leadership role, or vice versa. It always begins with developing the ability to slow down enough to pay attention that there is a difference between doing and being.


Overall what this work has done for the client mentioned above is creating some space to become more like the leader he wants to be. He has realized that giving himself that space will allow him to be more in touch with the intuition and creativity that inspired him to be an entrepreneur in the first place. This then has positive ripple effects on his team members who get to lead in their own roles because of the space he has given them, and benefit from the new inspired ideas he is bringing to life.


Let’s start your journey to more spacious leadership today.

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