The Dynamics of Leadership

As I reflect back over the years in my career there is one lesson I remember that resonates from my mentors; “If you put the organization first, then your wants and ambitions will soon follow. But it is always about the organization first, your subordinates second and you are last.” Well I often have to think just how prevalent this is in fire service mentality — especially the leaders. This mentality is reinforced every time we hear the “what is in it for me” comments. image

It is important to understand that as a fire officer you are a leader of the organization and that 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 the fire service. Unfortunately, we often see individuals who think the department revolves around them or they are the “Negative Nellies” who can find fault in the fact you handed them a million dollar check because 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 works you did at first. In other words 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 mode?

Unmet Needs

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.

Unfulfilled Expectations

Many times do we find individuals in the fire service who have 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.

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 a low self-esteem. We often see this with many of the harassment cases.

Unresolved Conflicts

Many times individuals will have an unresolved issue. Why is this? Well most times they never have the fortitude to address them professionally. They get mad or sulk when they don’t 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.

Uncontrolled Thoughts

We recognize that many individuals will have these thoughts that are not controlled. That is they don’t have a full knowledge of all information and they are thinking one-dimensional.

Unprotected Lifestyles

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?

Unreliable Commitment

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 don’t 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 as the focus. This will mean that many cultures, values, opinions and beliefs will have to be educated or better yet truly changed. Leaders must be diligent in their efforts working tirelessly to accomplish the vision exhausting all means for a successful journey. Never lose faith or lower the standards for the vision. Falling short of the vision is better than setting low standards and making it. If leaders will follow the vision with heart-felt desire you will win!

In summary, 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 you don’t 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 will often pull even the best leaders off the vision. When we keep our vision, we often receive harsh criticism. 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 I focus on active listening, I challenge you to hear what has happened in other organizations and responses. Embrace vicarious learning as we cannot create training for every scenario possible, there just isn’t enough time or resources. But we can learn about situations, conditions, events and types of responses from others who have experienced them, plus benefit from their lessons learned. By doing this we spend the required time to live and learn.

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 real and 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 isn’t fun is because of your own attitude or who surrounds you, which most often is by 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. Don’t fall victim yourself. Here are a few tips on how to keep the fire service passion going:

Pay Attention

It is important to follow 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.

Give Affirmation

Give affirmation to the fire service, the people who you affect and work with. 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, take success and drive it to a whole new level. Your positive attitude is the fuel for your success both individually and more importantly for the organization.

Show Affection

Always speak well of your organization and the people in it. Negative comments drag everyone down. The negativity you show in these conversations depicts your level of thinking. No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. This is a brother and sisterhood that demand people to have affection to be a successful organization.

Create Adventure

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 ongoing and challenging.

As you strive to keep it fresh, remember you are a part of this great profession we call the fire service.

The organization you are a part of is the most important focus, so what are you going to do to make a difference in your organization? Doing nothing is not acceptable! Undermining the leadership and everything they are trying to accomplish says a lot about your true character! Remember you hold the key to success through your principle, values and attitude, as skills are never enough!

Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Recue. 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.

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