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Avoid Being a “Body”

“If it’s easy, it ain’t leadership”.

Picture the start of any crime drama you’ve ever watched, such as CSI, and what do you see? The opening scene almost always starts with a crime scene, and other than the dead body laying around, very little evidence anyone else was there. The rest of the show is spent putting together otherwise minuscule clues in an attempt to figure out what happened and who did it. Now, picture your current team. Are there people on this team who leave little to no evidence they were ever there? Even worse, is it the leader that you’re picturing?

Is there a person calling your team home, with a bad attitude, perhaps disrespectful to others, or quite frankly toxic to the group and the profession? I call this person a “body”.

It’s obvious to everyone when a person is simply showing up, not contributing to the team, and thus is just a body occupying a staffing seat. But even more so, he or she is the lifeless body at our too familiar crime scene drama. At some point leadership allowed this to happen and we need to figure out who did it, and why. Perhaps this body was a bad hire and we forced it. Leadership fail. Perhaps this body had no business walking across the recruit graduation stage but we let it happen because the training section couldn’t find support for a dismissal. Leadership fail. Or worse of all, we let that body show up at the station, and get away with quite frankly, murder of our profession and values. Leadership Fail! In any scenario, it’s a criminal act towards the fire service to let this body continue to occupy a seat on our team.

The fire service needs leaders who are really bad criminals, incapable of creating multiple crime scenes with no evidence of who did it. When I say bad, I mean the CSI team would find an abundant amount of evidence that leadership was there, in the form of fingerprints.

Our values, expectations, humility, strengths, experience (success & mistakes), lessons learned, and vision all comprise our unique fingerprints, and DNA as leaders! When we decide to put our fingerprints on someone as leaders, we are trying to mold and influence their careers to incorporate our attitude and respect for the job. It’s how we add value to our team and organization.

Ever see a group that loves to train all the time? That’s called having shared values and buy-in. The leader has his or her fingerprints all over that group. But you can almost always spot the body that doesn’t want to be there. No buy-in, because the vision and values aren’t shared. Ever see the body who is too into developing themselves first? Unfortunately I’ve been that body. A lot of times your motivated Type A leaders fall into this trap. But great leadership put their fingerprints on my career and lead me into realizing the potential of the team first.

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You’ve probably experienced a great leader at work, or should I say a really poor criminal. He or she probably pulled you aside the first day out of rookie school, and began teaching you the ropes at the station. We call this socialization of what it means and takes to be a firefighter—mentoring. Your officer might have sat you down and told you whose coat-tails to stay close to at a house-fire, or who would show you around the fire-house. He or she probably told you whose behavior to study and copy— the people who will keep you safe, teach you the craft, and in doing so leave their fingerprints all over your career. I bet right now you can picture those folks who invested their time in you along your journey. I would be willing to bet you also can picture those folks who left you disappointed most days you came to work—lazy, disinterested, and perhaps even toxic to your organization.

It’s up to us as leaders to engage and serve our folks, and to have great attitudes that are infectious to others, including when we have to do things that are unpopular but necessary.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m tired of leaders who are really great criminals, take for themselves, and leave nothing behind for anyone. I’ve witnessed too many times a neglected firefighter, whose attitude and career becomes just another discarded body on the floor—a reminder of failed leadership. Whatever your rally cry is as a leader, this is your opportunity to have impact and have a hand in shaping their career! The worst thing you could do as a leader is to be present at work, but absent for your team. This is the leader who shows up in the morning, and their day concludes as soon as they set their gear on the rig. A cup of coffee, hopefully no training scheduled for the day, and at 1630 hours the TV goes on and stays on till bedtime. That is a master criminal and an absent leader. I doubt you’d find many fingerprints on the careers of his or her team.

If you are going to be a leader, than don’t just be a body showing up to the firehouse, and preventing someone else from having that leadership opportunity. If you aren’t challenging your people to grow personally and professionally, you might as well not show up.

Benjamin Martin is a lieutenant with the Henrico County Division of Fire (Va) and an 11-year veteran of emergency services. He is a graduate of and former Deputy Curriculum Chief with the Virginia Fire Officers Academy. He focuses on empowering aspiring leadership. He is equally passionate about supporting and promoting resiliency in existing leadership. He writes under the banner, Conscious and Intentional: The opportunity of leadership. He has two bachelor's degrees, Allied-Health (Pre-Med) and Fire Science, and is currently working on a Master's in Public Administration. 

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