The inner workings at a fire department can be complex and confusing. Observing and understanding the real-time issues, then making decisions and executing can be slow, grinding, and mysterious. And for an organization filled with firefighters who are ready to act, it can be very frustrating.
Working in a bureaucratic organization like a fire department requires patience and persistence, but also another important characteristic: positivity. Keeping a positive outlook is absolutely essential for moving a fire department into the future.
Sometimes you’re made to believe that change is impossible. Well, you just shouldn’t stand for that. You must learn to believe in the possible, and you have to be serious about making it happen.
All fire departments are fraught with a never-ending list of things to do and no one doing them, which frustrates everyone to the point of depression. It wears you down and gnaws at your mindset as it begins to distract you from your real objectives, your mission.
Remaining positive, even during the most difficult times, is a must. Getting help when you need it and partnering with the right people (other positive people) is a way to stay focused on your mission.
Appreciate the low-hanging fruit, or small wins, and the small moments of excitement that comes with them. Celebrate them when they happen. Remember, you’re a member of the fire service for a reason – don’t forget it.
Our aspirations are our possibilities.
Listening to music stimulates your thinking, but playing a musical instrument is like cross fit for your brain. Here’s why playing music is a mental workout that builds long term strength to help you observe, orient, decide, and act. Think I’ll take my guitar to work.
Go to TED-Ed here to see the lesson plan and a deeper discussion.
How To Speak So That People Want To Listen
Gossip, judging, negativity, complaining, excuses, lying, and dogmatism (my way) are the seven deadly sins of speech found in every corner of a fire department. It’s a growing disease that obstructs productivity, and more important, our ability to effectively serve. We must avoid them, and in this TED video, Julian Treasure shares several ways to help us create a continuing, constructive conversation with each other.
Here’s some short takeaways from his talk:
- There are four powerful cornerstones we can use to be positive and make change in our organizations (our lives). When speaking, use honesty, authenticity, integrity, and love (HAIL) to have open, clear communication.
- It’s not only what you say, but how you say it that makes a difference. And I would add why you are saying it. A few speaking tools you can use are register (where it comes from), timbre (the way your voice feels), prosody (rhythm), pace (tempo), pitch (tone), and volume (loud, soft, or just right).
Speaking does no good if no one is listening or understanding what you’re saying.
Think of these delivery methods when speaking in a meeting, or just having a conversation in the hallway. Learn to speak better, where ever you are, and we might all get along and get more done, together.
Photo by Kim Fitzsimmons
So, you’ve been promoted to officer. Now what?
After rereading From Buddy to Boss: Effective Fire Service Leadership, here’s my top ten guide of things to think about, and do when you’ve been elevated from the rest of the department to now lead them:
- Face the Facts. The sooner you accept that you are no longer one of them, the sooner you’ll be comfortable in your new role and can lead them.
- Make a Deal. Immediately negotiate with your ex-buddies (just yesterday you were one of them) on the ground rules to make it work in your new position. Bring likely problems out in the open and clarify expectations: theirs and yours.
- Be impartial. Outside of work is for friends; inside it’s about the team and the job. Treat everyone fairly and consistently.
- Keep a lid on it. You WILL face challenging processes, difficult situations, and painful people. It can be hard, but emotional outbursts only erode credibility and respect. Save it for the next sporting event you attend.
- Control your ego. Yes, you are good. You just got promoted and it’s difficult to be humble. Get over it. You’re the team leader, not king. Engage your team by listening to their views and welcoming their ideas.
- Hold your tongue. Miss the camaraderie, wild stories, vivid commentary, and critical conversations of how it should be done? Before the ‘chatter’ becomes inappropriate, remind everyone of the position you’re in. And if you have a lose tongue, stop talking and get out!
- Maintain your confidence. It will be challenged often and occasionally damaged. Begin repairs immediately by listing the positive things in your new role. Review this list every now and then to remind and maintain yourself.
- Want the ‘good old days’ again? Don’t look back; look ahead. Make a list of the frustrations from your old role/position and alongside that the benefits of your new role. Remember why you wanted to promote now?
- Celebrate your accomplishment. You are now in this position because you worked hard for it and you deserve it.
- Leadership training might not be mandatory, but the way to become a better leader is to keep learning. Build your soft skills like decision making, communication, and teamwork. The fire service is all about people; learn how to work with them and for them.
So, want to survive and prosper as a leader? Engage your people and build a team.
Visit Kim Fitzsimmons website here to see and purchase her fire service posters.
Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Firefighters are very quick to recognize problems in their organization. This daily size up conversation is heard at every fire station and in every office at headquarters. But speaking up, actually bringing the issue to the attention of the organization, doesn’t happen often. At least not in the right way. Why? Because members fear that contradicting the status quo will damage their reputations or position. Or worse, they just like to talk, but have little desire to act.
Effectively communicating through the confusing maze of hierarchies in fire departments is difficult. This obstacle course wears down everyone. That wariness is costly, because feedback from the front lines is vital for improving operational practices and safety measures. With that in mind, speaking up and teaming up builds a better, more healthy organization.
Researchers have studied communication within a variety of organizations that operate in dangerous and complex environments. They interviewed and assessed teams across several measures, including professional status (the hierarchy of each team), psychological safety (the extent to which team members felt comfortable speaking up about work-related issues), and leader inclusiveness (the extend to which leaders welcomed and incorporated feedback from their members).
This research has shown that while hierarchy structures were similar across all teams, the level of psychological safety varied dramatically from one team to another – and was directly proportional to the level of leader inclusiveness. How status is handled within those hierarchies is what makes the difference.
Inclusive leaders exhibit three characteristics that lower the fear of speaking up among their members:
- they are accessible
- they proactively invite input
- and, they acknowledge their own fallibility
Small enabling messages from leaders, what they say and what they do, make all the difference in complex organizations like the fire service. Sometimes, for the better of the organization, you just have to have a difficult conversation.
Is your organization open to members speaking up? Are you comfortable with speaking up within your team or organization?
A deep sense of trust and cooperation builds relationships. Strong relationships make us feel safe inside our organizations. Great leaders want to build opportunity and confidence in their organizations. They want their members to feel safe. And when the members feel safe, they will innovate and move forward. And the organization, and the people in it will grow.
I just finished listening to Simon Sinek’s latest book, Leaders Eat Last at audible.com. More on that later.
United States Naval Admiral, William H. McRaven, delivers sound advice in his commencement speech to the University of Texas Class of 2014. Below are the quick notes on what to do. Listen to the speech to find out why and how to do it.
- If you want to change the world, start by doing the little things right: make your bed.
- If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
- If you want to change the world, measure people by the size of their heart.
- If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and move forward.
- If you want change the world, don’t be afraid of the circus.
- If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head first.
- If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
- If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest of moments.
- If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
- If you want to change the world, don’t ever ring the bell.
Also, read the workingfirechief’s blog for his thoughts on “Changing the fire service for the positive and keep good traditions alive.”
How will you help change the world?
More snippets From Buddy to Boss: Effective Fire Service Leadership, by Chase Sargent.
The Organizational Foundation for Leadership
The fire service is a people game: Win people – win the game; lose people – lose the game. I am not talking about not holding members accountable for their actions or kissing anyone’s rear end. Instead I am suggesting that everything we do in the organization is with and about people. We live, eat, train, respond, and even die with people in our organization. In addition, we don’t make widgets; we serve people. Every action we take is intended to prepare for or actually deliver service to people who may be facing the worst days of their lives.
Why Senior Leaders Must Lead
Everything we do, from our first day on the job, to how we help maintain our station and equipment, to the day we become an officer is viewed and recorded by the people we work with. And they never forget. So leadership, really, should begin on day one!
Senior leadership must surround itself with educated, competent, and committed members who have the expertise necessary to fulfill the jobs at hand, so that delegation becomes a matter of trust and respect. There can be no more damming action than to ignore what others say on a continual basis and implement only one’s own ideas. If you surround yourself with knuckleheads, you are going to get knucklehead solutions, and you are going to wonder why, four or five years (or sooner) down the road, no one believes in you or will follow you.
The reality is, leaders must practice and show leadership, everywhere and all the time, and not just speak about it. People are always watching and they will judge your leadership activity (or inactivity), and they will remember it. They judge you on your success, not your words.
How do people (the customers you serve and the members you work with) see you every day?
I’m rereading one of the fire service’s dynamic and in your face leaders and authors, Chase Sargent. His book, From Buddy To Boss, is full of real-life truths and nuggets to guide the new officer (company or chief) and remind and reset the old ones. His live presentations were delivered at street level, making his points understandable to those of us on the front lines trying to make good sense of something at 0200 in the morning. Here’s a short piece of Sargent’s wit and wisdom:
From “Methods to Expand Your Influence”
Committee. Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you live in a country run by a committee, you had better be on the committee.” If you want to influence the kind of breathing apparatus or PPE you purchase, then find a way to get on the committee that does the research and makes the final recommendation. There is an old saying: “Those who show up and speak up have a say, and those that show up and don’t speak up have no say, those that don’t show up have to live with it!”
From Buddy To Boss is on our 3rd Battalion Reading Challenge List. You should read it too. More snippets to come.
If leadership is about influence, where do you stand?