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I once worked with a Battalion Chief who would jokingly thumb up his collar trumpets and say “I woke up one morning and there they were.” He always did this in a crowd and usually while looking at himself in a mirror. He would then walk away and leave the people wondering what the intended message was. Since the unwritten rule of that day was that a conversation with an Officer was always initiated by the Officer, no one dared to ask the Chief for clarification.

Coming from the days of carbon paper and rotary phones, I often wonder how the blue collar fire Officers of that time became such good communicators and how so many Officers of today still manage to walk away and leave us searching for the meaning of their intended message, but not in a joking way.

I think that the good Officers of yesteryear climbed the leadership ladder on rungs made of life experiences, hard knocks and pride in a job well done. They spoke firmly and they always gave clear direction. If you worked hard and you became accepted by the senior Firemen as a good jake, it was a lasting career memory for you, when the good Officers began to engage in casual conversation with you and then they shared the knowledge learned in their boots with you. That special time became a memory because it was such a very important merit step in the communications of the team.

Have computers, email and the ever present cell phone helped create a group of Officers who have mastered the skill of admiring themselves in the mirror, while losing the vital skill of truly communicating with the workforce? Is the easy way and the fast way the best way to communicate, or is it death by email when measured against a coffee table chat after a hot hallway push on a bitterly cold night?

“The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.” Henry David Thoreau said that.

Did the arrogant Officers of today never see a picture of a rotary phone or did they conveniently ignore the fact that the rotary phone had a place for listening that was always positioned above the place for speaking. So also does a portable radio, which I interpret to mean that the listening place in the people business of communicating holds a higher significance and is more important than the mouth piece.

Ladders move people, up or down. So too do leaders. I said that.

Have we replaced the strength and warmth of the ash and second growth hickory leadership beams and communications rungs of principled leaders and plain talk communications with cold, weak, wash it with soap, unprincipled, impersonal, and drive by Officer arrogance that I see displayed by many Officers today?

Was the time we spent scraping off the old spar varnish, using broken window glass, in order to check our ladders for strength and trust warranted and well spent or wasted? Why did we bother to refinish our ladders when surely we would just bang them up again throwing them to windows as escape avenues, again and again, or using them to bridge over burned out stairs to allow Firemen delivering courage and compassion to someone we didn’t know who was dying to meet us?    

Mirrors don’t lie and maybe the mirror would be more revealing if arrogant Officers cared enough to stop thumbing themselves and joking and stroking themselves and closed the door and really took a slow hard look. Maybe everyone knows the true meaning of your hardware, except you.

Writing, speaking, mentoring, coaching and teaching are all honors for me and I am humbled by the trust and I will never take that lightly. Each opportunity is a chance to pay it forward for so many who gave so much to me. Wherever these opportunities may take me, I ask simply that if anyone ever sees me display Officer arrogance, you insert a ¾ boot where it belongs, so far, that three Truck companies and a Rescue will be needed to remove it. This includes in the halls of FDIC or wherever else we may cross paths. I am humbled that you took the time to stop me and that you shared a few minutes of your great day with me.

Everyone has a mirror.

I can’t hear or feel through email.

Stop romancing the talk button – someone else probably has something important to say.

Can you hear me now?

Thank you for reading, caring and sharing.

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

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