Leading Ideas: Work on the Fire First

“When you’re on fire people get out of your way.” — Richard Pryor (1940-2005), US Comedian Consider This:

“When you’re on fire people get out of your way.” — Richard Pryor (1940-2005), US Comedian

Consider This:


While Mr. Pryor was referring to being on fire literally, I’m thinking more figuratively – i.e. to be lit up with inspired energy. Either way, I think the statement holds true. People get out of your way when you’re on fire because your energy is undeniable. It’s spreads quickly and it’s tough to put out. For better of for worse, the fire behind your ideas is often more important than the idea itself when it comes to getting buy-in from others. Most people don’t spend enough time building their fire. They make sparks and a few small flames, but they never fan them. The fire never burns hot. It never spreads far. And as a result, it can be stomped out easily.

When a client asks for help regarding a significant undertaking, I always tell them to “work on the fire first.” What I mean is get clear on WHY you’re doing what you’re doing before you do it. Inspire yourself. I’ve noticed most people don’t. They’re not clear on their motivation – and a lot of trouble ensues. It’s easy for others to talk them out of their plans. It’s easy for others to catch them wrong footed in a negotiation. It’s easy for others to beat them out for a business deal or promotion. Clients often tell me that I’m relentless in asking them why they do or don’t do certain things. I tell them, “I do it so you can stoke your own fire.” “If you don’t it will go out – and your efforts will get stopped in their tracks.”

Try This:

Following is one exercise I use to help people stoke their fire:
1. Finish the sentence I want to (fill in goal) because ______________.
2. Answer it at least 10 times.
3. Pick one answer from the 10 (any one) and start over again.
4. I want to ______________ because ___________________.
5. Keep going as long as its useful.
6. Use this exercise often, with different questions, to stay focused and inspired.

Question: Have you found a particularly effective way to stoke your fire? Please share.


Doug Sundheim • Executive Coach, New York City •