Leadership In Action

3 Lessons Firemen Teach Business Leaders

March 3, 2015

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I'm Deb- CEO, worldwide executive coach, mentor, consultant and speaker. I'm here to help you take your leadership and impact to the next level!

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Everyone makes mistakes.
That’s a fact of life.

Some repeat the same mistakes again and again.
That’s the path to failure.

Mistakes can either be our biggest ally or our worst enemy, depending on whether or not we learn from them.

Making mistakes is simply a side effect of experimentation. It means you tried something and for some reason, it didn’t work as you had hoped. It actually is a sign of progress because it came from taking action. And taking action is better than sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to solve a problem.

What you do when you make a mistake is a defining factor in whether you will succeed as a leader or set a pattern for failure.

When firemen visit schools, they teach children three simple steps to take in the event of a fire: Stop, Drop, and Roll. This lesson has saved lives. This lesson makes sense for us adult leaders in business as well.

Maybe you have made a mistake as a leader,
and you are feeling the heat. What do you do?

Follow the firemen’s advice.


Stop two things: Stop committing the mistake, and stop assigning blame. For just about everyone, blame is the default reaction. Years ago, when a major corporation suffered massive financial loss, the CEO blamed everything from the economy to 9/11 to his own employees to the cost of sourcing. Instead of taking responsibility for his decision to produce a certain commodity when the economy was weak and sourcing costs were high, he wasted precious time assigning blame to others and circumstances.

Consequently, the company, which had been in business over 70 years, fell into bankruptcy. As divisions of the company were sold off and became profitable again under new leadership, it became clear that it was not the economy or 9/11 that had caused the downfall. It was a result of leaders not learning from their mistakes and taking action to turn it around.

Assigning blame is a waste of time. Move away from this stage as quickly as possible.


Instead of placing blame, dig in to determine the real underlying issues. What exactly didn’t work? Where was the breakdown? Did you begin with the end in mind? Does the goal fit your vision – is it the right goal for you? Did you have a plan, process, people, and proper resources in place? Did you pre-determine risks and determine preventive measures? Maybe you had a great plan but just didn’t have team members assigned correctly to tasks that fit them. Write down exactly what went wrong. These are the powerful lessons you have learned.


In the event of a real fire, if all you did was STOP and DROP, you would not survive. The last step is critical – you MUST roll forward. In the event of a mistake, the same applies. You must move beyond the mistake. Learning from your mistakes allows you to move forward in a more refined direction. You may feel fear – after all, the last time you tried to move forward, you made a mistake. Push past the fear. And if you make another mistake, that is fine. At least if you have done your homework, it won’t be the same mistake you made before. It will, instead, be another refining lesson.

The old adage, “Never pay twice for the same mistake,” is wise advice. The way to avoid that cycle is to engage the Stop, Drop, and Roll Cycle instead.

If you are feeling the heat of a bad mistake, follow the Firemen’s advice!


  1. J.J. Gembinski says:

    It seems as if a major component of success is the step of reflection. Reflecting helps with planning but it also helps with recovering from a mistake as you’ve pointed out and in general, just keeping everything in order. After a big success or failure, reflection is critical. With reflection comes knowledge.