It is important to understand that as a fire officer you are a leader of the organization. You must understand and teach that no individual is greater than the team. I am totally convinced that the team working together is the essential component of successful organizations and the fire service. Unfortunately, we often see individuals with an ego who think the department revolves around them. There are also the “Negative Nellies” who can find fault in the fact you handed them a million-dollar check but they had to go to the bank to cash it.
So here is an important question. Is your relationship with your fire service organization at best status quo? Just like any relationship it has to be worked at. Often when we analyze where we are in a relationship we find we have abandoned the love we had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; regroup and start doing the work you did at first. Refuel the passion for the job! To maintain the status quo is to keep the things the way they presently are, to stop developing, progressing or advancing; become sluggish or dull; become stale, foul or dead. So what causes firefighters to go into status quo?
Often times the nurturing of our organization does not occur. We have individuals or groups who are often neglected or are never addressed due to the system trying to help others who are not at the same level. It is important that as a leader in the organization you not let this happen. You should be diligent to address everyone in your sphere of influences needs.
Many times, we find individuals in the fire service who have high expectations. Often these expectations are never met for whatever reason. One of the most common causes is that the expectations are not realistic ones or ones that the organization cannot support for any member. It is important as a leader to help individuals develop and create realistic expectations that match not only the individual but also the organization’s capabilities.
Under Developed Self Esteem
In most cases self-esteem is not a major issue; however, with some individuals the environments they are placed in are negative, hostile and/or demeaning. When this occurs, it is not hard for them to have low self-esteem. We often see this with many of the harassment cases or where superiors are egotistical and talk down to their subordinates. It is important that individuals have good self esteem and be close to the self-actualization level in “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.”
Many times individuals will have unresolved issues. Why is this? Well most times they never have the fortitude to address them professionally. They get mad or sulk when they do not get exactly what they want. There is no conflict resolution or closure in an issue. Other times they never choose to address the problem at all.
Recognize that many individuals will have these thoughts that are not controlled. That is, they do not have a full knowledge of all information and they are thinking one dimensional. It is important for organizational leadership to share as much information and knowledge as allowable for individuals to gain the totality of the picture and be able to see the complexities that influence the organization.
Who is influencing you and your thoughts? Who are your so-called friends and colleagues? What are they feeding you? Often times we find that individuals find themselves in a status quo mode due to being frustrated. The first area you should look at is who you are hanging with. In most cases it has been shown that who you are hanging with influences you tremendously whether it is positive or negative. In short, what junk are they feeding you?
Commitment takes work and if in the relationship one side is not committed then it becomes unreliable. Often times the organization is not the problem but officers who do not do their jobs. This influences the entire organization.
Keep It Fresh
We have to invite today’s fire service in. We cannot be living in the past or in fantasies. Today’s fire service is a lot different than when I started back in 1979. The key is adapting and embracing change. We the fire service have a burden of responsibility, a responsibility to leave the service better than we inherited it. This means we have to learn from our own and other’s mistakes. We must set a course of direction that has safety and wellness as the focus. This will mean that many cultures, values, opinions and beliefs will have to be changed or better yet educated. Leaders must be diligent in their efforts with a passion for the purpose and working tirelessly to accomplish the vision exhausting all means for a successful journey. Never lose faith or lower the vision. Falling short of the vision is better than setting it low and making it. If leaders will commit to the mission of the organization and follow the vision with heart-felt desire you will win!
To sum it all up you must keep the vision and keep from getting distracted. Remember to make it your priority. To keep the vision you must understand that it will require personal sacrifices and risks to be taken. In making sacrifices and taking risks we often feel like we are out on a limb. Well guess what, you are! But if we do not take chances you most likely will not keep focused on what is important — the vision you have set as a leader. These distractions that come up often pull even the best leaders off of the vision. When we keep our vision, we often receive harsh criticism.
Remember, DO NOT compromise for what seems easier nor be discouraged by the criticism.
We have to be focused on nurturing our relationship with the fire service. With that said, we need to have true diverse communications that are open and engage active listening. When we focus on active listening, we challenge ourselves to hear what has happened in other organizations and responses. Embrace vicarious learning, as we cannot create training for every scenario possible. There just is not enough time. But we can learn about situations, conditions, events and types of responses from others who have experienced them, plus benefit from their lessons learned. With all of this being said there has to be a degree of pleasure that comes with anything.
Remember that we need to keep it fun. However, fun is dictated by attitudes. So before you tell me that all the fun is gone, check your attitude and the people that are influencing you. Maybe the reason it is not fun is due to who you are surrounded by, which most often is a choice. I challenge you to look at the big picture.
For officers you have to keep the romance and passion for the fire service going for your crews. Do not fall victim yourself. Here are a few tips on how to keep the fire service passion going:
It is important to be following closely what your personnel are doing. You should spend quality time engaged with these individuals to truly understand them as individuals. You should focus on their needs more than your own. Gathering around the kitchen table is a great place to start!
Give this to the fire service and the people who affect and work with you. Positive affirmations and positive thinking techniques can help develop a powerful and positive attitude to life; which is an essential element in life success and good health. With this power you can turn failure around into success and take success and drive it to a whole new level. Your positive attitude is the fuel for your success.
Speak well of the organization and the people in it. Negative comments drag everyone down. The negativity you show in these conversations depicts your level of thinking.
We need to create in our realms an exciting or very unusual experience and the ability to participate in exciting undertakings. This needs to be on going and challenging.
Keeping it Fresh
As you strive to keep it fresh, remember you are a part of this great profession we call the fire service. The organization is the most important focus, the most valued resource are the personnel.
So here is your challenge. What are you going to do to make a difference in your organization?
Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Rescue. He is the Executive Editor for The Fire Officer and Executive Director for the Command Institute in Washington D.C. A 36 year fire and emergency services veteran as well as a well-known international speaker, Cline is a highly published author of articles, blogs and textbooks for both fire and EMS. As a chief officer, Cline is a distinguished authority of officer development and has traveled internationally delivering distinguished programs on leadership and officer development. He also has a diverse line of training videos on leadership, rapid intervention team training, vehicle fires, hose line management, and emergency vehicle operations and fire ground safety and survival.