Leadership Development

Burn Again

How hot is the fire for your work, for your community impact, and even for your own life? Grown a little cold? Let’s help you burn again!

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Fire. It comes in myriad forms, bringing both destructive and helpful effects. The destruction often results from an absence of boundaries or a shortage of respect. Fire, when helpful, is tied to life being better and even sustained.

Depending on the circumstances, being without fire can be pretty rough. If you have ever watched Survivor, you know that being without fire for days (sometimes simply a night of endless, cold rain) begins to have significant negative effects on a person and a team. 

Electricity has brought alternatives to flame, but let the power go out for a few hours and what do most of us begin to look for? Whether flames or electrical currents, humans all over the globe depend on some source of power for life. It is all a type of fiery energy that can either burn and destroy, or burn to feed, keep warm, provide light, and even instill peace. Why do we sit around with flickering, burning candles?

What about when community impact networks lose their fire? Think about the early months and even years of that collaboration. A shared hope and vision moved everyone to invest in visionary conversations with promise. Now, the conversations are more like, “Building a community network to help our community grow stronger was a great idea! What happened?”

There is also the fire within the human soul. Inner fire gets you up, keeps you moving, and causes you to press through the more difficult parts. But when it’s always about work, the larger community, or someone else, and never about you, your fire will undoubtedly fade.

There might still be a hint of smoke that says, “Something used to be burning here.” But the heat and light are hidden under the ashes of what once was sustaining fuel for what you burned for. 

I was reminded this morning of a story about a fiery old man. At age eighty-five he declared, “I’m just as strong and vigorous as I was at 40. Give me that hill country!”

You see, fire has come to represent life. 

But things happen. Pandemics happen. Funding and sustainability challenges happen. Rainy days happen. Conflicts happen. Life happens.

Think about the complexity of the community weave. Our community networks are made up of individual organizations of various sizes and focus, and those organizationslot-green-matches-one-red-leadership-light are made up of individual people who each have their own personal life realities. You are one of those people.

So, how’s the fire within…
Your network?
Your organization?

Maybe you don’t know at this point. Let’s do some investigating. As you continue to read the following scenarios, atmospheres, and attitudes, determine where you believe your network, your organization, and/or you are. Then, sit with the thoughts you find there: thoughts that you read and those that are stirred in you. Also, don’t ignore any emotions that surface. Ideas for getting the fire to burn again are abundant, but here are some to help get you started.

1. Want the Fire
Willingness is powerful. So is the lack of it. Do you want the fire? If so, how badly?

  • We pursue what we want. If you don’t want it, unless there is some authoritative force hanging over you, chances are you won’t pursue it. When life is super full, we make choices, which means some things don’t happen. Often that is what screams the loudest or is most in your face. Can we, at this moment, say that a lack of fire is now in your face?
  • Getting the fire back may be difficult. This is especially true if the fire is related to an individual organization or a larger network. You can’t control the fire of others. However, you can absolutely be a fire carrier and a fire starter. Don’t assume negatively about the effects of your fiery presence. If you are the one in need of fire, be ready to do the work that follows. Whether for you or the larger community, increase the scale of our “want to” so that you don’t settle for the status quo.

  • Do you believe that you and the work you do matter? When we have been in the same place and position, doing the same work for a long time, we can lose our sense of value. Some adjustments may be needed. But, the need for change does not necessarily bring the change. A situation in dire need of fresh fire and vision may have grown so cold that it will take significant effort. You must believe that who you are and what you do matter enough for the investment to be made.
  • Get the band together and make a decision. If there is a need for your organization or network to assess the lack of energy around your work together for community good, then be an initiator of getting key players together to talk. Come to that conversation with specifics of your concerns and recommendations for possible next steps. Others may be seeing and sensing the same issues and simply sitting on it all and saying nothing. Someone needs to call the “band” together so that there is the opportunity to assess where things are and where they are going. 
2. Assess the Fire
Determining the state of things is not necessarily a fun venture. However, if the fire is out, it is better to know and acknowledge that it is, than to pretend things are glowing hot when they are stone cold.

  • “It’s just work. It’s just a job.”  That is an atmosphere-creating conclusion. When it is “just work" to earn a paycheck we tend to give as little as possible to get the job done. And that paycheck probably leaves much to be desired, which means the payoff isn’t very inspiring. Since fire needs oxygen, the lack of inspiration isn’t helpful. 

  • Unable to move beyond today. When the fire is low, and it’s cold, you have to stay close to the fire source to stay warm. This is particularly true if your surroundings are also dark. You will work to remain close to some semblance of heat and light. Not venturing out beyond today’s hot spots is evidence that a fire needs help.
  • Survival mode is real. Your body knows how to help itself survive. When in the cold, absent a heat source, the body will decrease blood in the extremities and pool blood at the core. Organizations do the same thing. Evidence that an organization or person is losing fire is that there is a pulling back from being as involved or engaged “out there.” You won’t see them as much and they won’t give as much because they are conserving their resources. Staff are let go while the workload is increased on a few at the core. A slow death from the cold? Maybe, if nothing different is done.
  • Think back. Has there ever been a time when the fire was burning stronger than it is now? Can you or anyone else remember what that looked like and felt like? How are things different now? Do you know when the fire started dwindling? What happened?
  • Ask a few people. Whether your assessment is of you, an organization, or a network, hearing from others will help determine if what you are sensing is a shared perception. The challenge is that perception is based on perspective, meaning you may see and hear things others don’t. But that also holds true in the other direction. Others may see and hear evidence that you are unaware of. 
3. Revive the Fire
Stir it! Feed it! The first thing to consider when reviving a fire is there may be hot coals underneath the ashes. Then, the fire has to have fuel to burn for those hot coals to be of help. As crazy as it might seem, consider reading this section out loud for your ears to hear your voice and see what happens. Let’s bring some fires back to life!

  • Who is burning? Consider people on your team, in your community, or even online. Whom do you know that when they speak, it is as if they are speaking directly to you? They just have this superpower. When they open their mouth the coals are stirred and fire is reignited. Get yourself within the sphere of their voice as much as you need to. If it is someone on the team and their role doesn’t necessarily lend to them being heard from very often, can that be changed? Maybe a simple invitation for them to burn in your presence is all that is needed. In your community? Get time with them. Online? Listen to them.

  • What did you once burn for? Find it! Close your eyes and think back over time. As a team, sit around the boardroom table and talk about what once was there as a fire that kept you all moving together, as one. Whether it is personal or organizational, what did you once burn for? Describe it. Talk it out. Say it out loud. Stoke that cold fire, drop some vision logs on it, and watch it burn again!

  • Learn something about you. New information unveils parts of you that have been there all along and just haven’t had a chance to emerge or be seen. My favorite tool to help people get started in this exploratory, revelatory journey is Clifton Strengths. Here’s a link - https://store.gallup.com/p/en-us/10108/top-5-cliftonstrengths. By the way, teams of people working together who want to fast-track knowing each other and increase collaboration capacity, give this learning tool a try.
  • Define and solve a problem together. - Be as specific and targeted as possible. For instance, if suicide is the problem, what if it is focused on students in grades 9 to 12, or on veterans officially diagnosed with PTSD? Then, build the needed relationships around solving that problem. Find answers, find fuel, find fire…together!

  • Stir a dream you have. Any dream. I have a dream of conducting a symphony orchestra for just one piece…more if they will let me. As practice, I will stand in front of my room-filling Bose speakers conducting as if the symphony is right there. The most fire-stirring practice I ever had was with earbuds connected to my phone and conducting outside, in an exquisite garden, beside a river. It was as if I was conducting nature!  Stirring the fire of that dream of conducting stirs the fire of my many other dreams in me. What is yours? Stir it up!

4. Tend the Fire
Fires will go out if not tended. Just because it’s roaring in one moment doesn’t mean it will stay that way. It is more difficult to start a fire than it is to keep one going. 

  • Someone…ANYONE…keep watch! If you are an individual, give some people the freedom to tell you that you seem to be growing cold. If you are an Executive Director, or a key leader of a  collaborative, network, or coalition, give people the freedom to say that something is wrong. The fire has gone out!
  • Don’t Isolate, collaborate. Eventually, your camp runs out of firewood and your coals burn out.  If you live isolated, the atmosphere will eventually grow cold. Where and to whom will you go?  Why let the fire die down? Make sure you are getting out into atmospheres that feed your fire so that it doesn’t dissipate. Your organization needs this too. This goes back to problem-solving a problem together. Keep defining problems and designing solutions together as a community of nonprofits, churches, government…as neighbors.
  • Ignore the naysayers. These people always have a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher in their hands. You may not be able to silence them, but you don’t have to argue with them or listen to them. The truth is, we don’t know what we don’t know. Something having never been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
  • Ignite the naysayers. Let me balance “ignore” with this; the naysayer may need you. Prove them wrong! If you have what it takes to maintain your fire while you help start theirs, go for it! Listen to what they are saying just enough to gain insight into where you can place the match or hot coal and drop it into place. You might start a fire in someone that everyone had given up on.
  • Invite the visionaries. Let them burn, watch them burn, let them start vision fires! You might be one of them. Don’t hide and don’t be silent! Your community needs you! If you have responsibility for inviting people to the collaboration table, don’t just invite workhorses, counselors, and case managers. Invite at least one coal-stirring and fire-starting visionary to the conversation. 

What can you do right now that will be different for you, your organization, or your network that will make the fire burn again? Go do it, right now.

Do you desire to strengthen your CharityTracker or Oasis Insight network to new levels of collaboration and impact? Reach out to Chuck today to schedule your conversation: chuck@simonsolutions.com.

ED645C80-CA25-41C2-8B6E-A6E7FA346EC1_1_201_aDr. Chuck Coward serves as Community Impact Specialist for  Simon Solutions, Inc. Chuck has invested over 35 years in fostering human and community development from a variety of places and roles, including as a pastor, non-profit Executive Director, Director of Development, businessman, consultant, university professor, as The Struggle Coach and as the founder of Entrusted Foundation. Serving to make people and communities stronger is his great passion. Chuck is the proud husband to Anita, dad to four, and granddaddy to eight.

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