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Beyond Fire-Fighting: Reframing Professional Value for Enhanced Career Growth with Mark Herschberg

Beyond Fire-Fighting: Reframing Professional Value for Enhanced Career Growth with Mark Herschberg

This article was based on Episode #37: Mark Herschberg’s lesson on management, emerged from an interview with Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!


“The essence of management is making sure the right people have the right conversations at the right time.” – Mark Herschberg.


You probably need clarification why we’re talking about fires here when our recent podcast guest, Mark Herschberg, is a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) aside from being an author. This is because, in reality, Mark fights fires – figuratively, of course!

Simply put, a CTO’s role can vary greatly depending on the nature and size of the organization. Still, it often involves being forward-thinking, anticipating future technology trends, and making strategic decisions to keep the company at the forefront of its industry. They also play a crucial role in innovating and optimizing internal operations, enhancing customer-facing services, and ensuring data security and regulatory compliance.

Now that I have your attention and interest. I will tell you the whole story.

A few years ago, Mark was called in by Evil Corp (obviously, this is a code name) to help fix a company problem. Evil Corp, as big a company as they were, had a unique idea to provide their customers with videos, which customers can show in their blogs, and allow the company to earn revenue through pre-rolled ads. What’s funny, though, is that every transaction was made through a call, with videos sent through email. 

Of course, Mark flew in and tried to find a fix to improve their workflow and went to lengths to create a Wiki for the company by himself, which the tech team needed help with. Over time, Mark noticed that the company needed to earn more and that the leaders even had a knack for over-counting their revenue and lying about it.

It was then that Mark realized there was nothing more he could do. Despite patching up issues and finding new ways to improve the company’s performance, the CEO loved creating more fires without thinking of the consequences.

We won’t leave you hanging, of course, as we were able to glean so much information and learning points from this story. Let’s get serious for a bit.


The Dichotomy of “Fire-Fighting”

The professional landscape is rife with situations that demand immediate, intensive problem-solving efforts – often likened to “fire-fighting.” In this context, firefighting refers to jumping into critical situations, tackling urgent problems head-on, and working relentlessly to find solutions. The abilities to think on one’s feet, remain calm under pressure, and derive effective strategies are highly valued in the world of work. Consequently, professionals who excel at this form of crisis management are often lauded for their resilience and resourcefulness.

However, this conversation sheds light on a less-discussed aspect of the fire-fighting phenomenon – its potential to harm an individual’s mental health and career progression. It underscores the necessity of balancing the urge to be the fixer with the need for self-preservation and growth.

In the words of Mark Herschberg, “We all love to put out fires… Putting out a fire is entertaining, but it’s not fun when you do it every day. And that’s not your job. Your job is not to put out fires. Your job is to help your client, grow your career, and do these things. And if all you’re doing is putting out fires, you’re not helping your client. Because if you put out the fire, but another fire starts tomorrow, you haven’t solved anything.”

Repeated exposure to high-stress, high-stakes scenarios can lead to burnout, mental fatigue, and decreased job satisfaction. Furthermore, constantly being in problem-solving mode can distract professionals from their long-term career goals, personal development, and exploration of new opportunities.

The dialogue thus prompts a deeper reflection on how to strike a balance – to step up when needed and prioritize one’s own mental well-being and career trajectory. It suggests that professionals should be more discerning about when to rush into the fires and when to guide their energies toward more sustainable, beneficial engagements.


Recognizing Personal Value and Prioritizing Self

Who says the professional world is all work and no play? Not us! Amidst the hustle and bustle, the constant ticking of deadlines, and the pursuit of client satisfaction, it’s easy to forget that we’re not just workers – we’re rockstars, each with our unique value proposition. And guess what? Recognizing this isn’t just the cherry on top of our career sundae. It’s the whole dessert!

Understanding our unique talents and abilities, and more importantly, their worth, opens up a new world of professional decisions and trajectories. It’s like being the captain of our ship, navigating through the choppy waters of immediate demands and client pressures, but always keeping our well-being and career progression as the North Star.

Now, being the captain also means making some tough calls. Sometimes, this might involve avoiding situations that don’t align with our skills, preferences, and long-term career plans. And yes, this may mean saying “no” to a client or a task. Sounds scary? Perhaps. 

But here’s a fun spin to it – it’s not a sign of weakness or incompetence but a bold declaration of our values and career aspirations.  According to Mark, “You need to be willing to recognize when you’re in that position… not just for your company, but for your career, and your mental health, and you need to learn to say no or to redirect. Saying, ‘You know what, I can’t solve this problem, but here’s a different problem I can solve. Here’s a way I can contribute.’ This is something we often don’t think about enough.”

This is a gentle reminder that stepping away from situations that don’t serve your professional growth or personal development is entirely okay and often necessary. This step back can be a leap forward in our career, helping us to realign with our goals, rediscover our intrinsic value, and ultimately foster a more fulfilling and sustainable professional journey.


Reframing Professional Roles for Better Outcomes

One thing Mark said in the podcast hit close to home. He said, “If we are constantly playing the hero, running in to put out the fire, we’re not preventing the fires in the first place. We’re not doing the strategic planning that we need to do. So think about where you can add more value. It might be. I can contribute over here and not over there in the fire.”

Imagine each professional as a superhero with their unique superpowers. These superpowers are our skills and competencies that make us stand out. By harnessing these strengths, we can navigate our contributions toward areas where we can deliver a supercharged performance.

Consider a brilliant strategist, for example, who’s always tied down with operational tasks. While they’re undoubtedly getting the job done, their superpower of strategic planning needs to be fully utilized. By reshaping their role to include more strategic work, they’re putting their superpower to good use and boosting their job satisfaction.

And the best part? This isn’t just a solo victory. It’s a win-win situation. Working on something they are great at is what it is all about for the superhero professional—and getting that sense of fulfillment from their career. For the client, it’s like having their superhero, delivering superior value from a professional working at their highest potential.


Career Planning for Independent Professionals and Small Businesses

In an age where careers are no longer linear and confined to the four walls of large organizations, the concept of career planning has taken on a whole new meaning. Mark Herschberg emphasizes this point in the discussion, underlining the significance of career planning for not only corporate employees but also for independent professionals and small business owners.

Despite the seemingly stable nature of their roles, these professionals need to acknowledge the fluidity of their career progression. The static titles they carry – “consultant,” “freelancer,” or “business owner” – don’t necessarily reflect the dynamic nature of their responsibilities, the problems they solve, or the growth they experience. Hence, career planning for such professionals should not be about chasing higher titles but rather about envisioning their work’s evolution and personal development.

To illustrate, Herschberg explains: “And so many people say, ‘Well, I run an agency’ or ‘I’m an independent consultant.’ I don’t need a career plan. I have my job. My title doesn’t change. Your title may not change, but the nature of your work, the nature of the problems that you want to solve, what you want to deal with, and your personal growth that is all part of your career plan, and you need to be intentional of that and not just say, ‘I got the title. I’m done. I’m gonna coast for 30 years.'”

This perspective helps independent professionals and small business owners understand that their career journey doesn’t end with attaining a particular job title. It’s an ongoing process of learning, growing, and adapting to the changing landscape of their work.


The Importance of Intentionality in Career Progression

Think of intentionality as your career compass. It’s not about catching the next wave of job opportunities or bobbing with circumstances that drift your way. No, siree! It’s about confidently steering your career vessel, determining what kind of work makes your heart sing, thirsting for personal growth, and aligning your actions to reach your professional paradise.

Why chase job titles when you can chase job satisfaction and personal growth? 

In Herschberg’s world, being intentional about your career isn’t a one-hit-wonder but more like an ongoing jam session. It’s about tuning into your growth, hitting the high notes in problem-solving, and grooving to the rhythm of the work you love. So, are you ready to rock your career journey?


This article was based on Episode #37. Please watch the complete episode here!