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“It takes two flints to make a fire.” Louisa May Alcott

What’s the condition of our team?

Is our team incipient, smoldering, vent limited, ignited, developing, heavily involved, fully involved or is our team in a light blaze, as our old Chief’s used to say, and putting off a glow that everyone can see from a great distance?

Times have certainly changed from the days when our teams responded to calls for help on engines and trucks with open cabs and our air conditioning was whatever the four seasons gave us. Most of the open cabs were gone when I joined the fire service, except for a few that were reserve pieces. Those riding the truck would snap their safety belt onto a side rail and those riding the engine company hung on from the back step.

Captain Stuart Gibson administered my road test as a Rookie in a 1950 something open cab Mack. I started out driving in second gear and I was smooth on the clutch when I shifted. He put his foot up on the dash and said “Country Boy drove a truck before.”

I remember how short the back step trips seemed if someone trying to stay warm with you under the hose cover was vent limited and talking only about business as compared to the seemingly cross country rides with someone who was vaccinated with a phonograph needle and whose conversations were about as interesting as an encounter with a burning sulfur candle.

Just as apparatus, fire development and building construction have changed so have the individuals who make up our team. If we who call ourselves leaders can’t shift smoothly and adjust to these changes, we will burn the clutch, get stuck on slow, and huck-a-buck all the way to failing our team.

I am convinced that our testing and pre employment processes are similar to our modern fire apparatus, too large, too cumbersome, too complicated, too much about flash and bling and too expensive. Maybe we forgot about the basic core values needed on our team and in our service which are to be prepared, know your equipment, get out quickly, get there safely, hustle with a heart and make a bad day better, every time.

If we ride up front with no concern for the team behind us, we will start out in Granny gear and stay there. If we never learn how to double clutch or to listen to the sound of the team engine in order to know when it is time for a smooth shift, or if we don’t understand how to feel the pressure, the pulse and the morale of the team, we will always arrive last and pick up the hose of the real firefighters who got there first because they were prepared.

Those stuck riding with you will use fancy EMS terms, like coronary trombone and posterior sciatica to describe how you make them feel and sadly our organizational investment in them and their what could have been will often be lost to the first team who runs an ad in the Sunday paper and whose light blaze team leadership causes their team members to brag about their winning organization through the grapevine and everywhere else as a smooth ride that they enjoy.

Take an honest and hard look at wherever it is that you hang your hat and call your team. No matter from what position you lead, Firefighter to Chief, formal or informal, lead and decide if tomorrow is the shift and that moment in time to begin moving a vent limited team back towards having a little glow, to full involvement and eventually into a light blaze. Your work days will be more rewarding and those around you will move away from a smoldering position that they fell into over a period of time and return with you to some degree of love for the job that brought us all here and made us stay.

Most disgruntled employees got that way from an event or a series of events and their failure was to allow those who were stuck in Granny gear to slow them down. I think most of them would prefer to be back to a better time in their careers rather than to wear a smug mug all the time and make themselves and others miserable. Human nature said that.

Sometimes leaders fail to have that simple informal venting conversation that creates a dialogue and an understanding of a problem and a bad attitude that is a team morale killer. Dialogue cools the environment that we will eventually have to work in. Closing the door to transparency or hanging a curtain in the flow path of a healthy informational exchange is not a successful strategy or a working tactic.

A good leader surrounds themselves with good leaders and they have a clear understanding of the flow path of the team. The leader must commit to providing fresh air to feed and ignite the team. Blowing smoke, keeping the team in the dark and closing off the positive team flow path won’t work. That’s not new technology; it’s been researched, time tested, proven and is included in common sense 101.

Well vented fires and a well vented team equals show time.

Vent limited teams and vent limited fires are dangerous.

Leaders who last let their teams breathe, those who don’t won’t.

Get your leadership foot off the clutch, it’s starting to smell back here.

Who is the Chief Morale Officer in your department? Is it a vacant position waiting for you to fill?

Why do busy firehouses traditionally produce best results, fewer problems and high morale?

Don’t be a curtain in your teams flow path. Give them some fresh air and watch them light up.

Good teams bridge over bad steps and move up past paralysis by analysis leaders stuck at the landing.

Feel the heat and watch the glow.

Thanks for reading, liking and sharing.

Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.

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