From the Works Archives: The Time Squeeze: Work Smarter, Not Harder

As the fire service grows – accepting more responsibilities each day – the company officer is asked to perform more in the same amount of time. Time is becoming more precious.

Originally published at on March 13, 2006. Read The Time Squeeze: Work Smarter, Not Harder.

Frictions: Uncertainties that complicate communication

FF360 Column  originally posted by FireRescue Magazine at on March 18, 2011.

By Billy Schmidt

Photo by Tim Olk

Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.
–Carl von Clausewitz

Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz, dead for almost two centuries, continues to be one of the most important strategic theorists of our time. His thoughts on how humans develop strategies are studied by military education institutions, business schools and other organizations concerned with human competition and conflict. Clausewitz used the term “frictions” to describe the uncertainties or the mechanisms that complicated warfare. Modern military officers most often refer to his concept of a general friction as the “fog and friction” of war.

Frictions are the constant stream of obstacles thrown in the path of progress. They can cause any number of unpredictable effects in any number of situations. Each friction, or challenge, becomes a diversion from the planned objective. In this FF-360 column, I’ll analyze communication frictions and how they hamper emergency operations—and how to prevent them and improve performance.

Read the rest of this column here.

Just Your Job, or Your Mission?

Seth Godin talks of another way to approach your job:

Are you doing a good job?

One way to approach your work: “I come in on time, even a little early. I do what the boss asks, a bit faster than she expects. I stay on time and on budget, and I’m hardworking and loyal.”

The other way: “What aren’t they asking me to do that I can do, learn from, make an impact, and possibly fail (yet survive)? What’s not on my agenda that I can fight to put there? Who can I frighten, what can I learn, how can I go faster, what sort of legacy am I creating?”

You might very well be doing a good job. But that doesn’t mean you’re a linchpin, the one we’ll miss. For that, you have to stop thinking about the job and start thinking about your platform, your point of view and your mission.

It’s entirely possible you work somewhere that gives you no option but to merely do a job. If that’s actually true, I wonder why someone with your potential would stay…

In the post-industrial revolution, the very nature of a job is outmoded. Doing a good job is no guarantee of security, advancement or delight.

Ask yourself, “Am I just doing a job, or am I on a mission?”

Don’t feel you have a mission? Here’s a few questions to help you discover yours:

  1. What do you really want to do?
  2. Why do you want to do it?
  3. Who do you want to help?
  4. What will the result be if you do it? What value will it create?

Of Related Interest:

Credibility: It's What You Do, Not What You Wear

General Eisenhower is an excellent example of a trusted leader who cared about his troops. Here he is talking to paratroopers in Newbury, England before D-Day Operations. June 5, 1944. (Photo from Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum Homepage)

The fire service, like the military, the academic and business world, puts strong emphasis on credibility. Many fire service members stress the importance of symbols, such as bugles, badges, medals, patches, and lately, letters following a name (EFO, PhD, etc.). Even wearing a T-shirt or sporting a decal on an automobile some believe provides them with “automatic” credibility. Not true. It’s not what you wear, but what you do that gives you credibility. Let me explain.

Badges, medals, patches, and other displays of technical expertise or promoted status are important, but unfortunately these symbols do not necessarily translate into creditability. Titles or holding positions of authority may initially bring credibility, but may erode over time, based on the leader’s actions. Real leader-credibility takes time to build and is taken from personal action.

Credibility, I believe, comes from a leader’s ability to build trust, garner confidence, and inspire those they work with. It provides leaders with real influence, not just position or rank.

How do leaders build credibility? First, you realize that your hard work is only part of the equation. You can work as hard as you want to establish credibility, but it’s the people you work with (followers) who will ultimately decide how much of it you have. And it can change daily, or even by the minute. I’ve read where Lou Holtz, former football coach, uses a very simple, but effective way, to evaluate a leader’s credibility. He asks the following three questions:

1.      Can I trust you? Everyone is watching and listening to you. Do your words match what you do? If they don’t, people will not have confidence in you or trust you. They want to know the “why” behind the decisions you’ve made. They want to know that their leader is motivated for organizational gain, not personal gain.

2.      Are you committed to excellence? Setting, demanding, enforcing, and following high standards, or expectations, will equate to higher credibility. Again, actions are more powerful than words.

3.      Do you care about me? Your credibility is based on your relationship with the people you lead. They will evaluate you both as a leader and a person. They want to know that you care about them. A commitment to people contributes to real credibility.

Your credibility plays a large role in your leader-ability. But it’s a fragile thing; easily damaged by one small miss-judgment. Leaders must work hard, every minute, to maintain and preserve their credibility.

How do you see your credibility as a leader? Better yet, how do the people you lead see your credibility?

Of Related Interest:

Servant Leadership and Power in Position-Led Organizations

Are you a leader or just a Boss?

Listen to William Wallace (Mel Gibson) say: “Men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.”

Great Leaders Have Emotional Control

Read the Leadership Freak’s conversation with Jay Elliot, author of The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation, where they talk of leaders controlling their emotions. Too much passion, or compassion, will overrun people. Elliot says that great leaders exercise control over their emotions, have passion for what they are doing, and have enthusiasm for what others are doing.

How can leaders control their emotions?

Leaders Do Things

Ruth Gruber

Leadership isn’t always about the CEO running the organization or the officer taking troops into battle. Leaders rise from everywhere; they influence others and make a difference. They do things. Watch this documentary about Ruth Gruber and her stories from WWII and other global adventures and see what a leader does.

Ruth Gruber: The Movie

Recounting the Past of a Witness to History. NY Times article. September 2, 2010.

FireGroundWorks: Are You Ready?

Photo by Tim Olk

Is your fire department ready? Do you build well-trained firefighters into well-trained teams? Do you develop firefighters and teams that think and operate in complex environments? Have you prepared your fire department to be ready for anything, at anytime and at any intensity level? If not, then why not? What’s stopping you?

Dramatic changes in the world demand that the fire service be ready for anything. Several factors affect a fire department’s ability to be ready, and the right training strategy is crucial to addressing these new challenges.

The real question is: How do we train (condition) everyone to be ready for any situation, and to be more decisive, deliberate, and correct in their actions?

Firegroundworks was created to help fire departments get ready. FGW explores the fire service, studying, writing, and speaking on how firefighters think and how they behave, and finding ways to help them perform better. The focus is on adaptive leadership and sensemaking through situational awareness, rapid decision-making, task management, and teamwork. At the end of the day, technology is cool, but firefighters still need to bring thinking to action. It’s all about being ready, and that’s what FireGroundWorks is all about.

Are you Ready? Follow FireGroundWorks for articles, videos, podcasts, and links for readiness on the fire ground.

What is Sensemaking?

What is sensemaking, and how can it make a difference in our lives?

In our complex and fast-forward world, we are constantly challenged to make sense of our environment. Faced with unknowable and chaotic situations, we easily become immersed in trying to find out how this happened or who was responsible, in turn leading us to in-action.

Leaders in high-risk organizations such as firefighting, medicine, law enforcement, and the military are often confronted with making sense of dangerous, highly ambiguous, and rapidly changing environments. While most leadership research is focused on more stable conditions that promote time-challenged theories, sensemaking is a way to quickly and effectively materialize meaning to inform and act on.

Sensemaking provides a grounded process that enables leaders to perform effectively during extreme events. It is not just a decision-making tool, but a way to open our eyes and reframe a situation into a question of meaning. Themes related to trust, situational awareness, agility, knowledge, and high-reliability highlight the collective sensemaking process that brings sense back into an ambiguous situation. Sensemaking organizes ambiguity.

Making sense out of our experience in the world is a compelling task. Most of us are just trying to answer two simple questions, “What’s the story here?” and “Now what?” Sensemaking has been around since the early 1970’s and the research has produced several applications, including organizational, educational and social approaches. The study of sensemaking has even lead to the creation of changemaking, but that’s for a later discussion.

The focus of my study is on the use of sensemaking to become better leaders in complex and chaotic environments. Follow me as I explore sensemaking and how we can apply it to our leadership practices. I like to say that, “Good sense makes better sense than common sense.” Good Sensemaking may help us bring thinking to action, leading us to safer and better performance, and better outcomes.

Whether leading in high-stakes business operations or in dangerous environments, how do you make sense of challenging situations?

Of Related Interest:

Where good ideas come from / TED: Ideas worth spreading

Humantific: Making sense of Cross-Disciplinary Innovation Now!

High-Reliability Organizing at Wildfire Lessons Learned Center

Ronald Reagan's Leadership

Effective leaders are principled, confident, happy, free of ego, and devoted. Our 40th President, Ronald Reagan, has been described as, “a man who understood instinctively that he did not ‘become’ president, but was given ‘temporary custody’ of an office that ultimately belongs to the people.” He is mentioned often with other notable leaders such as Washington and Lincoln. Yesterday, February 6, 2011, would have been Reagan’s 100th birthday.

Leadership Lessons Learned

There are many great leadership lessons we can learn from President Reagan, which I believe can be described in just two words: servant leader.  He was simply a leader who focused on others first. Servant leaders are different than other leaders in that they are focused on others, not just themselves, and they want to make life better for others, not just themselves.

What’s your motivation to lead? Is it to accomplish something or to be recognized?  Or is it your desire to serve others and to help them grow?

President Reagan in Austin, Texas. 7/26/84. Photo from Reagan Library

Of Related Interest:

Ronald Reagan on Leadership

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership