What a Leadership Team Should Be Doing

Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what to do with your time when you’re in an administrative leadership position at the fire department. Yes, there are mission-critical functions to complete but those are often more strategic than tactical. You’re acting with the BIG picture in mind.

Leaders help others grow. Illustration by Paul Combs.

Leaders help others grow. Illustration by Paul Combs.

This can be very challenging for the firefighter at heart who is now in an executive leadership position. No longer do you respond to those routine calls and operate as a tactical commander. You’re now part of a strategic leadership team. And by the way, not all firefighters should just promote up to a leadership position.

I personally made the transition from front line firefighter to company officer then to chief officer, but it’s taken a lot of time and practice to be where I am now. Over the last 30 years I’ve discovered through lots of trial and error why we need leaders,  how to work safely and effectively with people, and in many areas what not to do. I continue to learn more every day.

There are times when I’m fond of my role as a chief officer and there are other days when I’m not. The structured, rule-driven processes such as fiscal procurement and asset inventory are much less interesting to manage and at times are too routine for my taste. After all, I’m a firefighter and my adrenaline flows when I’m tangled up in a dangerous and chaotic challenge.

But the successes are sweeter now that I get to work with more people on several valuable projects. And the challenges are much larger which requires more critical thought and have greater impact. I have more influence and more opportunity to grow more leaders.

So I will continue to grow myself, so I can help others grow. I’ll keep looking for what it takes to be a good leader and an effective member of our leadership team. I’ll spend my time (when I’m not ordering stuff and counting things) helping build a learning organization that gets things done and encouraging others to be better leaders through reading and open discussion.

Despite my 30 years of fire service experience, with 20 of that as an officer, I still have much to learn. But that’s alright, it’s my challenge!

Question: What is your leadership team doing?

See more illustrations by Paul Combs here.

Train Like You Fight: Rules of Engagement

Video of the Rules of Engagement from John Buckman

This is Safety and Health Week and the theme is “Train Like You Fight.” The theme captures two angles of responder safety:

  1. Safety on the training ground and reduction of training-related injuries and death
  2. The importance of adequate training to prepare for safe fireground operations

For more information on Train Like You Fight, go to 2014 Safety and Health Week

Top Ten Things For The New Officer To Do

Photo by Kim Fitzsimmons

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Be impartial. Outside of work is for friends; inside it’s about the team and the job. Treat everyone fairly and consistently.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. Celebrate your accomplishment. You are now in this position because you worked hard for it and you deserve it.
  10. 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.

How Speaking Up Builds a Better Organization

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

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:
  1. they are accessible
  2. they proactively invite input
  3. 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?

In The Right Environment, We Can Do Remarkable Things

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.

If You Want To Change The World…

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?

It’s A People Game: More “From Buddy To Boss”

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?

Reread: From Buddy To Boss

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?