My Recent Presentation: Arrival, Now What?

GFFSLast Friday, I had the privilege of speaking at the the Great Florida Fire School in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Hundreds of firefighters attended the week-long conference that included both lecture and practical programs ranging from live fire to classroom classes. A few of my friends delivered the following classes: Applications of Positive Pressure (Captain John Flynn), The Courage Within (Driver/Operator Ric Jorge), and Gauges Don’t Lie (Doug Watson).

My program was a compilation of a few of my previous lectures on crew resource management that address stress, situation awareness, decision making, and intentional command all rolled into one. I called it Arrival, Now What: The First Fifteen are the Most Important! Why are the first 15 minutes the most important? It’s simple, that’s where more things happen than we have time and resources to handle. This highly compressed time frame increases chaos that forces us to play catch up, and we have to be more aware of it and have a better approach to handle it. Following are some takeaways from my presentation, just to get you thinking.

Numerous “fireground frictions” impact impact the first fifteen minutes of an incident. Frictions are “uncertainties that complicate performance” and they include, but are not limited to, disorientation, extreme fire behavior, loss of situation awareness, task saturation, and command confusion. Watch the video below for information about how new materials and technologies that are making fire-related risks much greater and our challenges for more difficult.

How do we transform unproductive confusion and disorder into controllable challenges? We study the predictability and performance of buildings and today’s fireground, and we improve the skill of controlling chaos. New scientific studies are showing us (seeing can be believing) how our tactics sometimes help or hinder the situation. The video below shows how controlling the door can seriously impact a fire event, and can help us control the fire (watch the temperatures change).

To stay ready, we have to practice sensible approaches that improve situation awareness, reduce task saturation, and improve decision making in those highly compressed time frames. Here are some of the sources I used to make my point:

What other problems (frictions) can you identify in the first fifteen minutes of an incident? How do you transform unproductive confusion and disorder into controllable challenges? What are you doing to stay ready?

What Teams Do

When teams achieve synergy, they bring out the best in their members’ performance, creativity, and enthusiasm.

Photo by Tim Olk

Photo by Tim Olk

Do you encourage teamwork? How open are you to suggestions for improvement from team members?

Micromanagement Can Create Zombie Firefighters [Article]

My latest article published at FIREFIGHTERNATION.

Leadership must keep firefighters thinking instead of turning them into brain-dead followers

By Billy Schmidt
Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Zombie firefighter image courtesy of Len Peralta.

Zombies seem to be all the rage these days. Becoming popular with the 1968 horror film “Night of the Living Dead,” today we find these characters in various books, films, TV shows and video games. Beyond the walking dead, the term “zombie” is also used to describe a person who is unaware of their surroundings—someone unable to think for themselves. They are ambulant but require outside direction.

So what do zombies have to do with leadership in the fire service? The next question should offer a clue. Can micromanagement create firefighting zombies? The answer is yes, and here’s why.

Management Theory
One of the most important functions a fire officer has is management. I read an article a few years ago that described this important function as X = -Y (see graph). X represents the level of firefighter brain use, ranging from “brainless zombie firefighters” to “thinking responsible firefighters.” And Y represents the degree of management provided by the fire officer, varying from “allowing full autonomy” to “micromanaging every detail.” So the obvious point here (unless you too are a zombie) is that the more you micromanage your firefighters, the less they will use their brains, making it more likely that they will become “zombies.”

Ask any fire officer which they prefer: thinking firefighters or mindless zombies who respond only as directed? The answers would most likely be, “I want smart firefighters who can think and adapt to any situation, firefighters with initiative who perform safely and effectively without detailed direction.” Then ask those same fire officers what their management style is, and none of them will admit that they’re micromanagers.

Now, ask any firefighter which they prefer: an officer who empowers them through trust and responsibility, or a control freak who second-guesses everything they do? Again, the most likely answer will be, “I want an officer who believes in me and helps me grow.” Then ask those firefighters what they really think about micromanagers.

Micromanagement Symptoms
Do you work for a micromanager? Are you a micromanager? What causes someone to act this way? Most micromanagers are driven by one, or all, of the following issues:

  1. Micromanagers are insecure.A lack of personal confidence can be devastating to a fire officer. Under the stressful and strenuous conditions of the fireground, firefighters demand that their officers be competent. No amount of “badge authority” is likely to command respect or obedience in complex and dangerous situations where lives are at risk.
  2. Micromanagers cannot handle workplace instability or pressures.Again, insecure officers quickly fall prey to the stress and pressure to meet the daily performance demands of their firefighters, including training, responding to calls and just plain getting along with each other.
  3. Micromanagers think they can do it better.These fire officers believe that no one can do it better than them. They have to make every decision, take a lead role in every task and, in some cases, dictate every step a firefighter takes.
  4. Micromanagers don’t trust anyone.This fire officer has studied and practices Douglas McGregor’s Theory X that assumes that all firefighters are inherently lazy and will avoid work whenever they can. They believe that they have to keep a close eye on their firefighters because they can’t be trusted.

Micromanagement Cures
So, does that sound like you? Or, does it sound like the person you work for? If it does, here are some things you can do to change that.

If you are a micromanager:

  • Admit it! Then start to deal with the micromanaging forces that drive you to control everything.
  • Strengthen your confidence by becoming more competent. High-risk situations demand competent officers.
  • Believe in your firefighters and trust them. Build relationships by rolling up your sleeves and doing the dirty work with them.
  • Invest in your firefighters’ training and help them learn to make the decisions or do the tasks that need to get done.
  • Stop treating your firefighters like zombies, because if that’s how you treat them, that’s what you’ll get. Take some risks and give them a chance to prove what they can do. Help them grow.

If you work for a micromanager:

  • Learn to speak up. Help your officer delegate more effectively by prompting them to give you all of their expectations up front.
  • Make sure to communicate with your officer regularly. This will discourage their need to constantly come to you for details.
  • Remember, your officer is human and changing micromanaging habits is difficult. Help them.

Final Thought
Anyone who has been in the fire service for any length of time has been exposed to some form of micromanagement. Micromanaging is immediately recognized by firefighters. Officers who micromanage inhibit firefighter development, restrict organizational growth and turn firefighters into zombies.

Finding the appropriate balance between directing, delegating and doing is one of the many challenges for fire officers today. The goal is not to create mindless zombie firefighters, but to grow adaptable, thinking leaders. The message is simple: Don’t be afraid to manage, but know how, when and where to do it.

Related sources:
Gallo, A. (September 22, 2011). Stop Being Micromanaged. InHarvard Business Review. Retrieved November 2012, from

Murnighan, J. (August 25, 2012). Micro managers: Learn to trust your people. In CNN Opinion. Retrieved November 2012, from

Zombie firefighter image courtesy of Len Peralta.

Are you a recovering micromanager? How did you recover? Have you worked for a micromanager? How did you handle it?

The Choices We Make: My Notes From Leadercast

Along with a few friends, I attended the Leadercast simulcast at the Office Depot Corporate Headquarters on May 4, 2012. The program, sponsored by Chick-fil-A followed the theme of “Life changing events begin with a simple choice.” In other words, we all make choices (decisions) that affect the people around us which can create a positive impact on them and others. As leaders, our choices can strengthen our families and impact our organizations. The day-long program featured energizing speakers who delivered thought-provoking ideas on leadership and practical ways to apply them. Look for the next Leadercast on May 10, 2013. Following are some nuggets I took away:

Andy Stanley

Soledad O’Brien

Dr. Roland Fryer

  • Website: The Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University
  • How do we make life better for those who are less fortunate?
  • If the U.S. has better education and technology available, why do we score lower than other countries who have less?
  • Who does it right? We should find them and follow what they do. Figure out what they do and do that!
  • Some ways for better education:
    • Spend more time doing it
    • Find the best teachers and use them
    • Use data to alter the pace of instruction
    • Have high expectations
    • Use short term learning and testing
    • Hold leaders accountable
    • Test the fundamentals early and often

Marcus Buckingham

  • Website: TMBC
  • Leadership is about “authenticity.” It’s not a model, it’s idiosyncratic.
  • What’s your leadership edge?
    • Advisor: You are practical
    • Connector: You are a catalyst
    • Creator: You make sense of the world
    • Equalizer: You are level-headed
    • Influencer: You engage people and convince them to act
    • Pioneer: You are optimistic in the face of uncertainty
    • Provider: You sense other people’s feelings
    • Stimulator: You are the host for other people’s emotions
    • Teacher: You are thrilled by the potential you see in others

Angela Ahrendts

  • Website: Burberry
  • Leadership should build a culture of trust and intuition. The combination will lead to more choices and better execution.
  • Keep asking:
    • What is our brand? Is it relevant? What’s best for the brand?
    • How do we unite the team? How do we connect with everybody?
    • How do we keep the organization healthy, motivated, and inspired?

John Maxwell

  • Website: The John Maxwell Company
  • You need to transform yourself to transform others. What are you doing to develop yourself?
  • 3 laws from the Laws of Growth
    • Law of Intentionality – What is our purpose?
    • Law of Awareness – We must know ourselves to grow ourselves.
      • Follow the 3 R’s:
        1. Requirement: What do I have to do?
        2. Return: What do I do well?
        3. Reward: What do I love?
    • Law of Environment – Grow in the right surroundings.

Tim Tebow and Urban Myer

  • Website: Tim Tebow
  • Urban Myer: Leadership is raising the level of the people around you.
  • Tim Tebow:
    • How do you lead when you are not in the game? Be ready!
    • Don worry about what you can’t control; focus on what you can do.

Dr. Sheena Iyengar

  • Book: The Art of Choosing
  • Choice is our ability to exercise control over ourselves and our environment.
  • Effective leaders see choice through others’ eyes.
  • Effective leaders are choosy about choosing.

Patrick Lencioni

Choices are about intention. What choices will you make today?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business [Book Review]

USAF Colonel John Boyd was constant explorer, thinker, and doer (some say he was a rogue, but he did get things done). He influenced the tactical thought and critical decision making process of fighter pilots to “outmaneuver the enemy” during air combat operations. Boyd’s ideas can apply to everything from routine fire department productivity to high-risk, complex fire ground operations. Can his body of ideas be used for everything? Never. But they can be applied to most complex and rapidly changing situations.

Chet Richards was a close associate of the late Colonel Boyd and a lecturer at the Air War College and the Army’s Command and General Staff College. In Certain to Win, he introduces Boyd’s philosophy of conflict by examining how it works in the military arena as well as the business world. He puts forward that organizations, including fire departments, work best when they have clear visions, well-practiced skills, and implicit trust. Richards uses examples from military minds of Sun Zu, Musashi, von Clausewitz, Rommel, Patton, and Boyd seasoned with the organizational accomplishments of Toyota and Southwest Airlines to show how commonly held goals allow each unit of the organization to make decisions that continuously moves them toward the goal.

Why the title, Certain to Win? Sun Zu answers that here: If a general who heeds my strategy is employed, he is certain to win.

This is an excellent read for anyone looking to expand their knowledge on situational awareness, communication, decision making, teamwork, or leadership.

Rapid Intervention Roundtable at HEAT Conference 2012

Photo by Tim Olk

2012 South Florida HEAT Conference

Hosted by the Fire Training Officers of the Palm Beaches

Rapid Intervention Realities Roundtable

The sound of “Mayday, Mayday” heard over the radio will bring a sense of uneasiness and urgency to everyone on the fire ground. One of our own is in trouble. Is your fire department ready to manage an incident where firefighters transmit a Mayday?

Where does your fire department stand with rapid intervention team (RIT) operations? Many changes have taken place since RIT was first introduced, but how has your fire department RIT operation changed? Do you have RIT policies and procedures that are accepted and used? Do you provide realistic training for firefighter assist and survival? Do you have adequate staffing and resources, and relationships with other response agencies that will assist you with your RIT operations? Is your command staff ready to manage the risk and make the decisions to successfully control a Mayday incident?

District Chief Billy Schmidt (PBCFR) will host a roundtable chat on rapid intervention realities across Palm Beach County. Members of the Rapid Intervention Group will discuss RIT policies and procedures, practices, staffing and resources, and command and control. The Group will share its mission and intent to help fire departments in Palm Beach County raise the awareness of prevention, heighten the state of readiness, and strengthen the level of rapid intervention response.

Come and listen as they discuss their research into the following:

  • The impact of NFPA 1407
  • How to prevent unsafe conditions that may cause firefighters to become lost, trapped or injured on the fire ground
  • How to build knowledgeable, well-trained Rapid Intervention Teams
  • How to get Command and RIT working on the same page
  • How to get a fire department ready to respond to the unthinkable: A Mayday

The Rapid Intervention Group includes members from most Palm Beach County Fire Departments and is working to develop a fully comprehensive rapid intervention program through a collaborative partnership and a solution-centered approach that focuses on “fire-ground firefighter safety” as the highest priority.

Decision Making in Critical Situations

My September 2011 column at Fire Rescue Magazine on FirefighterNation:

Decision-Making on the Fireground

Understanding how decisions are made is the first step in improving their effectiveness


Critical situations require quick, deliberate and goal-oriented thinking.

Critical situations require quick, deliberate and goal-oriented thinking.


By Billy Schmidt
Published Friday, September 16, 2011

It was early in the morning and we were responding to a fire in a heavily occupied apartment building. Dispatch had received several phone calls indicating that people were still trying to get out of their apartments. I was the officer sitting in the right front seat of Engine 33, where I could see the black column of smoke rising in the distance. I started thinking about the building we were responding to and what we were going to do when we got there.

Read the rest of the column here.

More of Billy Schmidt’s Firefighting-360 Column at FirefighterNation.

Speaking Up!


Photo by Tim Olk

Photo by Tim Olk

Leaders should build teams with people who have a proven willingness to speak their mind.

I love this quote from the latest On Leadership at the Washington Post: “If you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant” (Avis CEO Barry Rand).

Decision making for organizations operating in complex and chaotic conditions emphasizes the importance of upward communication and dissenting opinions to arrive at sound strategic solutions. Most times the unwillingness to speak up is to blame for a failed objective; sometimes those failed objectives cause injury or death. It’s easy to believe we are leaders when everyone around us agrees with everything we say. Because a diverse set of opinions, and sometimes disagreement, are crucial for good decision making, we need strong leaders and followers who are willing to speak up, and then we need to listen to them.

How do we build teams with open communication lines in all directions? I’ll bet TRUST would help.

Read Saying no to ‘yes-men from’ On Leadership here.

More thoughts on TRUST

“Trust is something that has to be earned. It is something we are all told to give away slowly and take back quickly.”         ~From Dr. Jeremy Statton’s post at Michael Hyatt’s Intentional Leadership.

Statton offers 6 ways leaders can build trust:

  1. Expose yourself.
  2. Take the hit.
  3. Build your team members up.
  4. Get rid of the leash.
  5. Accept confrontation.
  6. Find the value in each person.

Read Statton’s post on trust here….

Build a Relationship and Trust Will Come

Photo by Tim Olk

Photo by Tim Olk

Trust. You know when you have it, and you know when you don’t. How do we define trust in a team or an organization? How do we build it, and then maintain it? Trust is more important today because of the rapidly changing and challenging world we live in.

Trust creates opportunity. It promotes effective communication, increases motivation, and creates synergy (1+1>2) in teams and organizations that lead to safer and more effective actions. Everything is easier when teams and organizations have trust.

Real trust allows for a state of readiness in teams and organizations because members experience a sense of safety and confidence in each other. Do you have trust on your team, in your organization? If yes, how can you strengthen and maintain it? If not, how do you build it?

Build a relationship first, and trust will come.

Of Related Interest:

Relationship Before Opportunity. Dan Rockwell, The Leadership Freak
How to Build (or Rebuild) Trust. Michael Hyatt, Intentional Leadership