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Have you ever watched that commercial that shows all the beaten dogs with the “Arms of an Angel” song by Sarah McLachlan playing in the background? I was up late one night and that sad commercial came on and it dawned on me, there are Firefighters who are abused by their previous leaders.

For years in every firehouse across the world there have been leaders who verbally abuse or neglect their people. These Firefighters might have the potential to be some of the best people for that organization yet they are not valued and become stand-offish. They no longer make suggestions, they try to hide out, and they are timid around their leaders and get overwhelmed with anxiety. They have leaders who tell them they’re dumb, or set up a drill or training evolution simply to expose that person’s weaknesses and make a joke out of them in front of their peers. We have leaders who will simply just shut people out, whether it’s because they don’t think they’re good enough or because that person is not part of a particular click. These Firefighters go an entire career not being heard and what’s worse is never learning anything because they feel unvalued and at times worthless. This is a culture that needs to be removed from every business but most importantly from our firehouses. We need to start treating bad leaders like cancer…we need to cut them out!

If you are a newly promoted Lieutenant or Captain and you get one of these “abused” Firefighters added to your crew and they possibly have more years than you yet are quiet or disgruntled or seemingly “out of it.” As a new leader you have to take into consideration this employees past, what type of environment did they work in prior to working in the one you are establishing and most importantly, what type of leader did they have? There are many cases of failed leadership, people like Rick Lasky, John Salka, Frank Viscuso and many more wouldn’t have a career writing books and teaching around the country if leadership was great and it never failed, no one would want to buy their stuff. We buy their books and attend their conferences because it sparks an interest, because there is truth to what they’re saying, like a joke “it’s only funny because it’s true” we listen to what they have to say because it’s true. We have a major failure in leadership throughout our firehouses, it’s sad because we are a part of the best business there is to be a part of. We survive because we have some of the greatest employees out there but we are still losing valuable potential when we allow bad leaders to abuse good Firefighters.

Here’s my take on that commercial I mentioned earlier, if we inherit a Firefighter who came from a bad leader; we have to treat that Firefighter as an abused dog. We essentially rescued them, but they are going to be timid, they are going to bark back or run away every time you metaphorically roll up the newspaper. We have to earn their trust and create an environment where they feel valued and cared for. It’s never too late to bring a beaten Firefighter back from their funk, that’s actually more rewarding than building a new Firefighter. I can guarantee that you will get the most out of rescuing an abused Firefighter so long as you prove that they are important to you and that you recognize what they went through and assure them that they won’t ever go through that with you.

Value them, encourage them and establish a new environment for them.

In all that you do, God bless, take care and stay safe!

Dave McGlynn
 Passion in Leading, LLC

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