Over the past decade, I have worked with organizations in various countries that had a wide range of social/organizational cultures. What was a raging success in one place would have been a debilitating nightmare in another. In Brazil, something as simple as taking a 2 hour lunch and tacking that hour on at the end of the day was more about the climate than purposeful culture, but it did contribute to the expectations within the culture. In Australia, working on a normally scheduled day off accrued a “day in lieu” in which your scheduled day off could be taken at another time. Neither one of these things are extremely common, or popular, in American organizations.

With all the differences, there are some similarities that transcend cultural and geographical boundaries. It is in our nature as humans to gravitate toward things of which we are passionate. We may be the one leading the charge or we could be moved to support someone else who is already a few paces ahead of us in a specific area. It is this “fire in the belly” that moves us to do great things.

So what do you do when someone on your team begins to smolder and a fire is birthed inside them?

  1. Be a wet blanket – Some organizations have put some processes and management styles in place so that there is no chance for a spark in anyone. It is most likely a “command-and-control” leadership style that prevents a fire from ever starting. While it may be an effective way to make sure things are done “your way”, it limits your organization to your weaknesses and short-sighted approach to things.
  2. Blow it out – Often times a flame is allowed to begin for the sake of appearing to be open to new ideas. Once it doesn’t “fit”, it is summarily extinguished as quickly as it was born. This is a very common way to ensure “people like me” become the status quo. Like the be a wet blanket approach, you end up creating clones which are also copies of your mistakes and short-comings.
  3. Stoke the flame – On the rare occasion, there is a leader who sees the value in having fire as part of the equation and they stoke the flame to grow into something great. Granted unchecked fire is destructive, however when gently directed and nurtured it can be a powerful force to change the landscape. Smoldering embers are minimally effective and roaring wildfires are overkill. A good leader understands the appropriate sized flame to make the most difference.
Not every flame is the best one for the circumstances. The heat needed to temper steel is too hot to effectively form glass. As with most things, understanding the need and striking the appropriate balance is an integral part of leadership. Are you stoking the flames in your organization?