The tables in your station galleys are probably the focal point of the firehouse; hopefully it’s not the bunkroom. Mentoring, complaining, problem solving, and training all occur here over that world class firehouse coffee. We have heard conversation after conversation take place here, but the next time you are engaged in one of those conversations, listen closely. Ask yourself how many I’s are in that galley.
If you want to see where a crew, station, or individuals stand when it comes to their contribution to the team or the mission as a whole, listen to see how many times they use the word “I”. You will hear phrases such as I should be getting this, or, I shouldn’t have to do that. Or even better, I wasn’t the one responsible for that. It’s all about the ME and not about the WE. They are quick to become an outlier and dismiss themselves as part of the team, especially if there is a mistake or failure involved. Often times they are only a part of the team when there is some sort of benefit to be had. Other than that, they are just another I in the galley.
There needs to be more WE going around. If there is a success, than it’s we who celebrate in it. When there is a fault or failure, it’s we who take ownership and learn from it. This has to be demonstrated from the company officers in the station. If we as company officers aren’t doing it how can we expect the firefighters to do it? The answer, we can’t! We need to set the example. I have a lot of favorite quotes but one that sticks out in my mind is by Arnold Glasow and it reads:
“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.”
I want to focus on the first part of this quote: A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame. This goes back to the WE. Whether it is a mistake on a fire or EMS call, missing equipment off the truck, or something that doesn’t get done around the station, it is because of WE. It doesn’t matter if it comes to the attention of the officer or a firefighter, every one of us should have the grit to stand up and take the hit as a team. I also preach about individual responsibility. At times is there one person that is the sole contributor of an issue that the team is now dealing with? Sure there is, but we suffer together. Every individual needs to understand that their actions and attitudes have an impact on their team. If a group of individual firefighters all have this same mindset, than it will make it easy for that team cohesion to take place and an ownership mentality to form. We as leaders, officers or firefighters, need to foster this sense of cohesion in our stations. There should be no finger pointing, only ownership and correction as a whole.
So how do we start to get rid of all those I’s in the galley? I would say the first thing is to set the example. Whether a firefighter or officer, if they see that you are living up to the WE mentality, they may change their views. I have seen firefighters that were just an I in the galley, mainly because of bad past experience. They had others around them that would be comfortable with them taking the fall. I once saw someone shift full blame onto an individual at the station, when they were part of the reason that a mistake was made in the first place. Sadly, this was a company officer, a piss poor example if I could be brutally honest. Do you think this would help someone? Being left on an island to take full share of the blame doesn’t help things.
If showing them a good example of a team that holds themselves accountable as a unit doesn’t help, you will have your work cut out for you. It doesn’t mean they can’t change, but it won’t happen overnight. Let’s face it, there are some who just enjoy coming to work and being miserable. There are some who choose to isolate themselves from the group even in the presence of a good example and good leadership. These are called casualties, and there will be casualties. You can’t save them all! The ones you can will give you strength in numbers and outweigh the minority. So, when you come to the station, work hard to get rid of all the I’s in the galley, and work more towards a WE mentality.