Alignment Solutions Newsletter: Timing is Everything

Timing is Everything

Alignment solution: Leaders who lack the necessary expertise for achieving a key outcome serve their customers well and set a good example when they call an expert right away instead of trying to do it themselves.

Years ago I was hired by a large fire and rescue agency to salvage a critical project that was well outside its members’ areas of expertise. With a mess on its hands despite weeks of frantic efforts to handle the issue internally, and with a deadline fast approaching, the agency finally called an expert. Asked why it took so long to seek the help they knew they needed, a fire captain replied, “When faced with any problem, we always do something. Even when we don’t know what we’re doing, we still do something because we’re the fire department and people expect us to handle whatever comes up.”

If you’ve ever attended a public safety educational event, you know that first responders tell people to call 911 in an emergency. “Even if you’re not sure whether the situation truly requires a fire, EMS, or law enforcement response,” they advise, “call us anyway. We’re the experts; let us decide.” Given those clear and simple instructions, why do some people insist on trying to handle an emergency themselves before calling 911?

Perhaps this scenario sounds familiar: although you are well trained in your field, you’ve been asked to achieve a goal or provide a deliverable outside that area of expertise, and for which you have had no training or preparation. Perhaps you must develop a department strategy, or create a new process or system, or resolve a difficult workplace situation. Even though you don’t know where to begin, you opt to give it your best shot rather than ask for help. After all, how hard could it be? (Note: for your own good, don’t ever pose this query as a rhetorical question.) Although these situations seldom involve danger to life or property, delaying a request for assistance is likely to result in significant costs and/or a failure to deliver a key outcome.    

Next time you find yourself in a situation in which you’re required to do something that’s beyond your area of expertise, ask yourself this question: “Is there anyone else in the world who knows how to do [the task at hand]?” In the rare case in which the answer is “No,” then take it on yourself. However, when the answer is “Yes,” call an internal or external expert. And when calculating your return on investment, don’t forget to include the peace of mind that comes from knowing that a key outcome will be achieved successfully and on time. Because even though you are not the fire department, people expect you to know what to do.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

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© 2016 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

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