There’s a cultural paradigm shift taking place in today’s fire service, and if you ask most of today’s leaders how to deal with that they can’t give you an exact answer. We know that the generation differences in yesteryears crews that are Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and born in the early Generation X era (1965-1980) don’t always zig when they should zig with the later Generation Y (1981-2000) crowd.
Now there are multiple studies out there that offer up opinions on why that is, what each group believes in, and why they zig when they should zag. I think today’s fire service leaders, and future leaders, have to acknowledge that there is this difference and work together within their individual crews and work on closing those generational gaps and remind everyone we’re still a team and share the same common goals and vision. They have to take the good ol’ boys, and the new boys, and get them to all buy in to you as a leader, but how do we do that? You as the leader have to keep an open mind with a positive future oriented mindset and utilize your sphere of influence to change the attitudes and behaviors of those you manage. You have to connect with your crew members, make your voice heard on your beliefs, standards, and areas of expertise, and then cultivate relationships with other people of influence. This is a very hard job to do, but I have five items I believe will help you narrow that generation gap and help you get the buy in from all levels that you need to be a great leader and to form a great team. So, let’s take a look at those five.
1. You as the leader have to put the vision on the table. It has to be out in the open so everyone can see it and know what we’re working towards together. The vision is your end result, and without a clear vision, people will stray off the beaten path. This vision can be your department’s vision or you can create a vision together as a crew to work towards for yourselves. I like the latter because each of you have input on where you want to be as a team, each put it together, and there are is no second guessing what the vision is and how you’re going to get there. So, put the vision on the walls of your firehouse, your locker doors, and remind yourself that that’s what you’re working toward together.
2. Personalize tasks’. You have to know the strengths and weaknesses of your crew, and this should be found out during personnel development plans, making runs with them, and in general discussion about what each of you perform well in, and what you don’t perform well in. When there’s a task that arises that fits the strengths of a certain crew member; then allow them to take the lead on it and head it up. The others will follow, and when he/she succeeds they will have a great deal of confidence. Just because they’re the one that is strong in that subject doesn’t mean he/she is the only one to do the work; they just take the lead and carry out that portion of the teams IAP towards that vision.
3. Follow up. What does this mean? Does this mean that you as a leader keep a head over their shoulders at all times and a heavy thumb on them? Absolutely not!! I believe that micro-managing members throughout their day to day operations, both in emergent tasks’ and non-emergent tasks’, is the leading ingredient to a recipe of disaster when it comes to managing and leading people. There isn’t a single person that likes to have everything they do scrutinized and looked at under a micro-scope. So, when you line that vision up and you cut someone loose on a personalized task, don’t micro-manage them but follow up on a regular basis. The easy way around this is when you assign them that task; give them a timeline about what’s expected from you and when it should be completed. “Hey James, I know you’re really good with Excel and I need a spreadsheet that looks similar to this for the new truck check sheets. Can you make me one on the computer and have it back to me before next shift?” It’s that simple; follow up.
4. Identify your resistance. We all have those employees in our departments, or the ones we work with, who will always gripe and complain about everything that comes down the pipe. The department could tell you they’re adding two-hundred more dollars to your yearly uniform order to spend on items and that one person will have a complaint about it. I mean really? How do you as a leader handle that person? That person’s negative attitude all day could distract team members and get them off the path of working toward that vision we pointed out, and you as a leader can’t allow that to happen if you want to maintain growth as a team and keep everyone on a positive thinking outlook so you have to step in and spear head the problem, and in this case the problem is the employee. You have to meet with this person and encourage them to stop being so negative every shift, stop deviating from the plan, and quit causing problems. If they choose not to; you may have to start with some punitive actions, but the overall answer is to step up to this person and stop their actions because they can put road blocks up that will slow that “buy-in” we’re working towards.
5. Be prepared to change the change. I mentioned it early on; there is a cultural paradigm shift in today’s fire service. This craft is changing and there really isn’t anything we can do about it. The fire service always repeats itself, it goes up and then down, and eventually comes around to make a circle. There are items that are changing for the good, and some things that are changing for the bad. We’re trying new tactics, and utilizing old ones. Whichever direction something is going, you have to be prepared to change it to the right one. The example above was someone trying to change the buy-in process by negatively complaining all the time, and since he/she is changing your change; you have to be prepared to change their change. That might seem confusing, but I hope I made myself clear. You have to change everything to go the right direction and make it as positive as possible for everyone in the group to reach their goals and that vision.
I hope these five items help you as a fire service leader. They don’t cover everything, but it’s a good start for you and your crew. You will find what works for you and what doesn’t and that will require some adaptation and overcoming. That’s why you we’re chosen to lead though, because the members in your department knew you have the ability to adapt. Now, get out there and do it.
Until next time…..Stay Safe, and Stay Low!