How Leaders Can Avoid Shiny Objects, Black Holes, Fire Drills and Other Dangerous Distractions

One of the greatest challenges of leadership is managing time, a limited resource that has to be used with the utmost care and consideration.

As the saying goes, there are “only so many hours in a day“, and the leader must be able to stay focused on those tasks and activities that truly matter.

That task is complicated by the daily presence of many distractions that the leader must avoid, lest putting themselves (and their company) in jeopardy.

There are three distractions that are particularly dangerous:

The “Bright Shiny Object” -   It’s a new product, a new project, or a new partner that catches your eye.  It’s sounds really cool, and there’s probably a lot of buzz going on about it in the corridors, and probably even in the business pages. The problem is, it’s not really right for the company, or it’s a very long shot for success.  But it’s really cool!  So you devote a lot of time on it, at the expense of other, more viable and profitable things.

The “Black Hole” – The company has committed a lot of money to a particular project and you are trying to guide it to a successful conclusion.  Trouble is, about 25% of the way in it becomes pretty clear that things aren’t going well (and you are going to be over budget to boot), and you face a decision – pull the plug now (with all the resulting hand wringing and blame), or, ask for more money and trudge on.  You choose the latter, and enter the black hole – pressing dangerously on in the hope that somehow, someway it will get pulled out in the end.

The “Fire Drill” -   The phone rings, and it’s your boss.  He saw a blog post yesterday from an unhappy customer – it was a pretty ugly one, but when you dug into it the day before it appeared to be an isolated case that could be routinely handled by your customer service staff, since you had set up a protocol for cases exactly like this one.   Your boss looks at it differently – it’s a complete breakdown of customer service that needs an extensive review and accounting.   You then start the fire drill – two days of phone calls, e-mails, and meetings involving many members of your team, devoted to that single blog post.

These kind of distractions CAN be avoided.    It’s all a matter of leadership perspective – that ability to take a step back, and “see” the bigger picture.   It also requires something else that is even more essential -

Courage.

The courage to put down a bright shiny object in the face of all that “coolness”.

The courage to stop a black hole project dead in its tracks and take the heat.

And, the courage to tell your boss you will not conduct a fire drill because of a single and isolated incident.

Perspective and courage are your best tools for time management – use them well, and wisely.

And one more thing – beware of that smartphone too; lots of bright shiny objects there.  Believe me, I know….  :-)

 

 

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Comments

  1. Chad says

    This is a great post and spot on (as I read this on my IPhone). Thanks for giving me perspective.

  2. Gary Winters says

    Spot on!

    I learned another way of thinking about Bright Shiny Objects from the movie “Up,” with Doug the dog, who was always becoming distracted by “Squirrels!”

    This is a good summary of three of the biggest obstacles to productivity, and of the three, my biggest challenge is the Black Hole. In fact, I’ve been wondering the last few days about a project I’ve been working on for some time that had lots of promise when it was conceived, but now seems to be nothing more than a weight, dragging me down. Trying to figure out whether it’s time to cut bait!

    And speaking of fire drills, I highly recommend an old classic, “Managing Management Time,” by William Oncken. His description of “who’s got the monkey” is invaluable and helps minimize fire drills.

  3. Starbucker says

    Hi Gary, thanks for your comment – I have several friends who had been using the “squirrels!” exclamation, and I hadn’t quite figured out where they were getting that from – until now. :-)
    Black Holes have been a nemesis for me too over the years – it’s just really hard to stop the momentum of a runaway train.
    And thanks for the book recommendation!
    All the best,
    Terry

  4. Jacob Yount says

    I’ve recently wanted to lay a project down because it was both a black hole and a fire drill. The mantra of many people then becomes that those laying down the project are not “solution oriented”. I’m a big fan of “solution oriented” but also in the 11 years I’ve been in business, since a young age, I know when something stinks. Others will want to push forward without consideration and internally or from clients, that can initially make you look bad. Sometimes “solution oriented” is a code word for not facing realities or putting time towards something more profitable.

    Over time if you stay consistent, you’ll earn respect as someone who carefully calculates and knows when a project is not worth the blood sweat and tears.

    Thank you as always, Terry and hope your December and Holiday are Merry.

  5. Miguel Sanchez says

    It sound easy on paper, but put it into action is not that simple and you can put in jeopardy your own career, not all the bosses are open minded and unfortunately you had to deal with them, some bosses when you start pointing out those issues they look at you like “spicy uncomfortable”.

  6. Tom Krengel says

    We learned the concept of the black hole the hard way – the expensive way.

    Later (unfortunately too late) we were introduced to the concept of “MVP” – Minimal Viable Product. MVP teaches that instead of fully developing the finished product and hoping there is a market for it once people see the glory you have labored over for X time and X dollars, just build the bare minimum and then ‘shop it’ everywhere for user feedback.

    Not only will you find out quickly if you have something worthwhile but you will also find out if you need to pivot and go in a slightly or wholly different direction – the direction toward success!.

  7. Starbucker says

    Hi Tom, and thanks for your insight on “MVP” – I know how tough it is to learn those lessons. Been there too.
    Really appreciate you sharing this here!
    All the best,
    Terry

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