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Navigating Leadership of a Blue Flamer

blue flamer

Maybe you’ve heard the term “blue flamer” before. Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “What in the world is a blue flamer?” Here’s the answer:

A “blue flamer” is someone who makes a rapid ascension in an organization. Instead of gathering appropriate institutional knowledge and slowly climbing the ladder, they’re spending time preparing for the next jump. They seek to impress.

The flame when a rocket launches is blue until it reaches orbit, where it dies out. But the blue flame gets that vehicle into orbit as quickly as possible.

But what happens to that blue flamer once they’ve reached “the top?” How are they perceived by those they manage? Do they know how to manage?

If you’re in a leadership position over someone who’s made a quick ascent into leadership ranks, it’s up to you to help them develop into leaders—or watch them flame out.

Derek Gaunt has almost 30 years of hostage negotiation and leadership experience under his belt. In episode #389 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast, one of the topics he covered was navigating leadership challenges—like navigating the leadership of a blue flamer.

The problem with blue flamers

In Derek’s experience, most Blue flamers are “yes” people who don’t have the knowledge they need to lead in their achieved role. Because they are aware of this, they feel like they have to justify themselves.

They feel like they have to show their subordinates that they’re competent and capable, which often leads to heavy-handed micromanaging. But the people that work for them see right through it.

As the superior, you’re going to have to have tough discussions with blue flamers. What should that look like? How do you navigate the tough conversations to craft a better leader?

Step #1: Start with an accusation audit

Start with the accusation audit. Basically, you start the conversation by stating what you think their objections might be. Then ask them what they think the vision of the expectations of them are. Using the word “Vision” turns them into a narrator about what their responsibilities and expectations are.

Step #2: Get permission to explain

As you listen to their answer, how does it line up with reality? Label, mirror, and flip the conversation in the direction you want it to go. Start by saying, “Would you be opposed to me walking you through what my thoughts are?” You’re asking permission first, which most superiors fail to do.

If you’re explaining something to someone, you change the dynamic of the conversation to one of superiority and authority over the other person. It means they don’t know something. Inevitably, in every tough conversation, you will have to explain something. It should never be without permission. 

Step #3: Use a “No-oriented question”

You want to get permission using a “no-oriented question.” You’re simply asking a question in which the desired response is a “no.” Why? Because you know that people will agree to more when you allow them to say no, first.

Derek uses playful accusation audits because he wants the recipient to think about the worst-case scenario. If Derek says, “After I say this, you’ll want to stab me in the eye with your pen,” it causes them to think, “Wow, what could he possibly say that would make me stab him in the eye?”

They’ll brace themselves for the worst, acquiesce, and say something like, “No, I’d love to hear what you have to say.” And now, when they receive the message, they’ll feel relief.

This allows you to lay out where they are, what’s expected of them, what the world thinks of them, and how you expect them to conduct themselves.

To learn more about navigating leadership challenges from the lens of a hostage negotiator, check out episode #389 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast.