“Let’s go boys. Eat your breakfast. We have to leave or we are going to be late for practice.” I yell from the garage.
Our two boys, four and six, were having their usual morning chat about Super Mario Brothers as they enjoyed their raisin toast, oatmeal with dinosaur eggs, and strawberry explosion smoothies through a multi-colored flex straw. My wife and I gathered their baseball uniforms and equipment. For some unknown reason we have somehow made the concept of ‘last second preparation’ into an art form in our household. Perhaps it is a byproduct of her background of a high level scholastic athlete, and mine as a firefighter. We are used to pressure and we work well when seconds count.
For her and I, gathering everything we need on our end is the easy part. We know their uniforms are in the laundry room (hopefully clean), and we know the bats, gloves, balls, and helmets are either in the back of the car, the garage, the back yard, or the playroom – where they once used every bit of that equipment to act out a rather impressive battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
The climactic last moments of bringing it all together have come to be known in our house as the final dash. The one thing we have learned from the final dash is that when the kids are talking, they are not eating.
“Boys. We have to go. Finish eating and go to the bathroom!” I yell, as I toss bikes, coolers, tools and everything else in the garage while looking for one final baseball cap.
“Who is slurping their smoothie?” I yell from the garage.
“It’s Frankie,” says Nicholas, my four-year-old professional tattletale.
“Frankie, stop slurping.” I order.
“Frankie, did you hear me!”
“Yes. But I can’t stop.” He pleads.
“Yes you can.”
“Dad, I can’t help it. Nothing’s coming out!”
“That’s because there is nothing left in the bottle!”
“But Dad, there is.”
“Obviously there isn’t, otherwise your straw wouldn’t be making that sound!” I explained.
The clock was ticking.
“Don’t but Dad me, we have to go.” I stress as I re-enter the room.
The four year laughs uncontrollably.
“What’s so funny Nicholas?”
“You said butt Dad,” He explains. Only a four year old boy can find such humor in the word butt.
As ordered, they hit the restroom then begin making their way out to the car with my wife. I grab my wallet and quickly pick up their plates and smoothies to throw them in the garbage. Oddly, Frankie’s smoothie was full. I observe it for a moment, then I raise the straw to my lips and… Sluuuurrrrrrrrp.
That’s when I realized my son was telling me the truth. The bottle was full. The straw had a h*** in it.
I quickly replaced the straw, apologized to my son for not listening to him, and sped off to practice (following all local speed restrictions and traffic laws, of course).
During practice I couldn’t help but to think about all the times people in leadership positions request, even demand a result from their team members without providing them with the appropriate equipment needed to achieve the goal.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of an unrealistic expectation? I’m talking about when someone, perhaps a supervisor, told you to accomplish x-y-z by a specific time or date without giving you the proper resources, direction or timeframe. If you have ever been there you will fully understand the amount of stress and frustration that often accompanies the moment. You feel as if your supervisor has lost touch. The only thing worse than being put in that situation is when you tell your supervisor that you will need x-y-x in order to be able to meet his or her expectations, only to have it fall upon deaf ears. Now you feel that person is setting you up for failure. Few things will kill team spirit quicker than the absence of respect and trust. Without those two things you are not a team. You are just a group of people who happened to cross paths.
I’m a firm believer that a fire service organization needs structure because in the absence of rules people make their own. But leaders need to understand the importance of listening to what their team members are saying. We need less policy telling people what to do and how to act and more leaders asking the question, “What resources do you need in order to be more successful?” It would benefit firefighters of all ranks, career or volunteer, to remember that we are all part of one team with one clearly defined mission – to reduce the loss of life and property, protect the weak, and perform the best service possible. Sometimes the resources we will need will not be available and we will have to adapt and overcome using what we have. Once again, that is where respect and trust come in play. Whatever the mission is at any given moment, don’t ever forget that we have an obligation to the serve the public and take care of each other. If you are in a leadership position you can start taking care of your members by setting goals, listening to their concerns, providing them with the resources they need, and celebrating the success of your team along the way. – Or, you can make it a habit of setting unrealistic expectations and yelling at them every time they can’t meet them.
Whenever you assign a task, make sure you provide the person with the tools and resources needed to complete the task. Don’t give out an assignment without giving your team what they need to do the job. – Page 212; Step Up Your Teamwork
If you make a habit of assigning people tasks without adequate resources, they will think you are either a poor leader or setting them up for failure. – Page 212; Step Up Your Teamwork