Walk like a duck, quack like a duck ... are you a duck?

CarolinaFireJournal - By Dave Murphy
By Dave Murphy
01/10/2013 -

Do you aspire to move up in your fire department? Does your present attitude and subsequent actions reflect your future job aspirations? Many things ultimately determine employee advancement in the fire service. First, a position must be available. This usually occurs either due to a retirement or departmental expansion. Second, you must be perceived as a contributing employee, capable of leadership and advancing the goals and mission of the fire department. Last, but not least, you must be prepared for the testing and interview process necessary to obtain the promotion. There are three common-sense methods — accompanied by some philosophical quotes — which I would like for you to consider in your quest for advancement:

“Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love.”— David McCullough

Model Successful People

“Hitch your wagon to a star.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mr. Emerson was right on the money. Look around, it is not hard to spot the movers and shakers in any organization. Are you one of them? Are you a giver or a taker?

I frequently allude to the 20/60/20 principle when discussing human productivity. It has been my observation that 20 percent of any workforce typically does more than their share when it comes to getting the job done correctly and moving the organization forward. Sixty percent are content with being an average employee and merely do enough to get by, but usually do not seek any extra responsibilities. Also typical in most workplaces, the remaining 20 percent usually do not contribute anything and they mostly complain about those that do seek to contribute.

Where do you stand in this very generalized breakout? How do fellow workers observe you? Simply observe your fellow co-workers. Are they being promoted or being considered for promotion? You may be wise to model your prepatory efforts — or not — after them. Are you doing what it takes to seek advancement in your department? You are the one most qualified to make an accurate personal observation. The bottom line — lead, follow or get out of the way!

Stay Current in Your Industry

“Beware of the man of one book.”

— St. Thomas Aquinas

Don’t get tunnel vision, take off the blinders and get in the game. Know your customer — and what is happening in your town, your state and the nation. Read, read and read some more! Have you ever looked at the demographics associated with your town — check out the latest census facts — you may actually be surprised at what you discover. Numerous excellent fire service publications abound both in print and on the internet. Internet articles report fire service related news from across the world, almost as it happens. A few inquiring minutes a day will keep you apprised of hot topics related to the fire service.

Begin to think like a manager/leader ... the average firefighter could care less about proactive efforts requiring their participation regarding fire prevention, fire safety education, plans review, code enforcement and so on. Bring up the subject of residential sprinklers in any fire station; negative comments will usually outnumber positive ones. If we are truly advocates for life safety, saving the environment and property, how can we not support these less glamorous proactive lifesaving/sustaining strategies? The ability or inability to speak intelligently about your profession is easily noticed. You must first be aware of important information before you can intelligently elaborate on it.

Invest In Yourself

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

Are you doing what you have always been doing and expect to advance? Are you waiting for success to beat your door down? How can you expedite your advance? Invest in yourself! Set personal goals that will get out of your comfort zone. Maintain a continuous forward momentum regarding personal enhancement by obtaining certifications, and constantly pursing your education. There is absolutely no way that you will not derive some benefit for it. You may not be able to see it now, but it will pay off somewhere down the road.

Are you currently in line for promotion? How do you know if you are doing the right things that identify you as a potential candidate? I suggest that you utilize or at least consider this simple methodology as a possible guide in your quest for career advancement. This final quote may be the best way to summarize your ultimate career success:

“Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love.”

— David McCullough

If you are in the fire service, it is most assuredly not for the money, you do it because you love it! When it is all said and done, it is truly up to you. Make the most of your self, for that is all you truly have. Lastly, be aware of how you routinely walk and how you talk ... for your actions will surely be remembered on promotion day!

Dave Murphy retired as Assistant Chief of the Richmond (KY) fire department. He currently serves as an Associate Professor in the Fire and Safety Engineering Technology program at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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