Supporting Your Firestarters

Create a culture of support for those who make a difference.

Paul Eder is a strategic management consultant and co-author of “Firestarters: How Innovators, Instigators and Initiators Can Inspire You to Ignite Your Own Life.”
Paul Eder is a strategic management consultant and co-author of “Firestarters: How Innovators, Instigators and Initiators Can Inspire You to Ignite Your Own Life.”

In any given organization, there are doers who shine regardless of the situation. These employees, who I call firestarters, overcome obstacles that appear insurmountable and consistently achieve results. They have a seemingly endless amount of passion, talent and desire for mastery that you can only hope other employees will try to emulate.

Who are firestarters? They are the innovators who create, the instigators who disrupt and the initiators who start. They don’t fit a set pattern based on role, education or skill. However, they do share a common orientation toward aligning their actions with a personal mission and making an impact.

An organization would love for all employees to have this orientation. However, these individuals are rare, and they are also quirky. Some people may never understand their “go-go-go” mentality. Others will ask why they can’t be satisfied with the status quo or may even be offended by their desire to reimagine an environment that feels comfortable (even if it’s not fully effective). Therefore, anyone can be a discourager, punisher or limiter.

To capitalize on the energy of your organization’s firestarters, you must institute a culture of support for them. Here are four roles supporters can play to ensure firestarters achieve the greatest impact.

Nurturers: Some people are excellent listeners. They add their energy to new ideas, poking holes and asking questions in just the right way to ensure one’s thoughts flourish in new and exciting ways.

To these nurturers, listening is not a passive action. It involves engagement, ideation and acceptance. We all need someone who takes the time to care about our ideas. For firestarters, this is especially true considering the sheer number of things they hope to accomplish.

Nurturers let firestarters know they are not alone. They are available to lend an ear, thoughts and words of support to help firestarters make their impact.

Motivators: Some people provide enough energy to power the lives of 10 other people. They don’t necessarily thrive on their own ideas, but they see potential in others and love pushing people to achieve their greatest potential. These motivators can help firestarters maintain their spark of passion and won’t let them accept failure when a situation seems tough.

The best motivators often appear to be firestarters at first. But when you talk to them, you discover they are passionate about helping others achieve their goals. Their orientation is not toward a personal mission.

Illuminators: All learners need great teachers. Teachers can inspire others to dream and achieve. They realize the powers that others have when passion is infused with the right combination of skills and knowledge.

These illuminators have a growth orientation; however, the growth they concern themselves with is not their own. They show firestarters new mental pathways and often plant the seeds that inspire them for years to come.

Illuminators may also be firestarters who have decided to give back. They refocus their attention away from their personal mission to ignite others to make an impact. Illuminators recognize potential in those around them and work to ensure that potential blossoms into a prosperous reality.

Protectors: The motives and actions of quirky people are often met with doubt. The energy needed to thwart unwarranted criticism may then be pulled away from their true passions. The notoriously quirky firestarter needs others in their life who are willing to step up to their defense.

These bold defenders — or protectors — see firestarters’ potential. However, they also see the roadblocks that others present in the firestarters’ path. Protectors take personal responsibility for removing roadblocks so firestarters can maintain their focus.

Protectors know the difference between defending and enabling. Their role is not to prop someone up in spite of their faults. Rather, they see qualities that others view as faults, and they work to ensure those perceptions are erased and the true value is highlighted.

A culture of support emphasizes these four roles. Not everyone can be a firestarter, but all can be supporters. By adopting these roles, we agree to become partners in a powerful journey. Success often requires removing ego and accepting that our largest impact may be serving as best supporting actor rather than the star.