What Is Baptism By Fire? Baptism By Fire And Why It Matters In Business

The phrase “baptism by fire” originates from the Bible in Matthew 3:11. In Christianity, the phrase was associated with personal trials and tribulations and was also used to describe the martyrdom of an individual. Many years later, it was associated with a soldier going to war for the first time. Here, the baptism was the battle itself.  “Baptism by fire” is a phrase used to describe the process of an employee learning something the hard way with great difficulty. 

Understanding baptism by fire

In business, baptism by fire refers to an employee being thrown into a difficult situation with little to no preparation. To emerge from the other side victorious, the employee must rely on sheer determination alone. Starting a new job is the most obvious example, with the individual required to learn multiple new skills or deal with several challenging situations.

Many organizations favor this approach because it is a useful way to train a new employee quickly. They also believe there is no time like the present to prepare the individual for complicated future situations which are inevitable.

Examples of baptism by fire in organizations

It is important to note that baptism by fire can impact seasoned executives as well as new employees. In fact, those with rank or seniority are often thrown into extremely difficult situations with little to no preparation.

Consider the example of Michael McCain, President and CEO of Canadian meat company Maple Leaf Foods. In 2009, McCain suddenly had to deal with the company’s cured meat products causing a listeria outbreak that resulted in 22 deaths. In a video apology message, McCain noted that the outbreak was “the toughest situation we’ve faced in 100 years as a company. We know this has shaken your confidence in us. I commit to you that our actions are guided by putting your interest first.” 

McCain is still CEO of the company to this day and, while emotionally impacted by the deaths, emerged from the crisis a stronger leader. McCain’s transparent and ethical response to the outbreak was met with praise, with the media suggesting he was a beacon for crisis management.

Emergency response

Baptism by fire is also commonplace in most emergency first response organizations. Police officers and firefighters must learn on the job, which necessarily exposes them to high-stress situations where time is of the essence.

Disaster management

Incoming governments and political leaders are often forced to deal with challenging circumstances immediately after taking office or being appointed.

During May 2015 in Alberta, Canada, incoming Premier Rachel Notley had to manage the most severe natural disaster in the province for years. Over 70 wildfires burned across Alberta, with thousands of residents forced to flee their homes.

Many U.S. Presidents have also inherited crises after assuming office. Abraham Lincoln inherited a divided nation on the brink of war, while Thomas Jefferson had to deal with a nation bitterly divided by a two-party schism.

Key takeaways:

  • “Baptism by fire” is a phrase used to describe the process of an employee learning something the hard way with great difficulty. The origins of the phrase come from Christianity where it was associated with personal ordeals. 
  • Baptism by fire is favored by many organizations because it allows the employee to learn quickly. The sooner they develop the skills necessary to face challenging stations, the better they will be prepared. 
  • Baptism by fire situations can affect any individual – regardless of rank or superiority level. Company CEOs are often faced with leading their organizations through difficult situations. The same can also be said for governmental leaders and emergency first responders.

Connected HR Frameworks

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs In A Nutshell

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool that helps businesses prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance, named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States from 1953 to 1961, the matrix helps businesses and individuals differentiate between the urgent and important to prevent urgent things (seemingly useful in the short-term) cannibalize important things (critical for long-term success).

Moonshot Thinking

Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.

Lightning Decision Jam

The theory was developed by psychologist Edwin Locke who also has a background in motivation and leadership research. Locke’s goal-setting theory of motivation provides a framework for setting effective and motivating goals. Locke was able to demonstrate that goal setting was linked to performance.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.

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