There are all kinds of schools for management and leadership, some good, some bad and some just silly. I made myself a promise many years ago that if I ever found myself in a leadership position in a fire department that I would be the officer that I always hoped for and was fortunate enough to get in my career. The following is a list of attributes that I have always deemed important.
1) A passion for the job that goes from day one until retirement. You can’t expect it from your firefighters if they don’t see it in you.
2) A willingness to get into the trenches and get sweaty and dirty. Not only on calls, but in training, station duties, and those great chores like hose testing. Obviously there are times when that can’t happen, but even an appearance and encouraging words matter. I am an Assistant Chief of Training and I clean my own office. Yes, I run the vacuum, wipe off my desk and window sill, and most often empty my own garbage and recycling. Why? Because I can, it keeps me grounded, and while a small gesture the firefighters see that and know I understand the job.
3) Realizing that you have one mouth and 2 ears. Sometimes listening more than you talk is the greatest educational experience you will ever have as an officer. Your firefighters have all kinds of ideas on how to make the job safer, easier, and more efficient. You just have to listen and actually try some of them. Encourage innovation, encourage learning outside of the department, and that they bring all of it back and share what they learned. The buzz words are getting “buy in” I call it good use of personnel talent. People are more involved if they believe they are taken seriously.
4) Say please, thank you, what do you think, great idea, and actually mean them. Criticize and reprimand in private. Praise in public.
5) Stay current on training, technology, and equipment. It is a real drag to work for someone that is somewhere between 5 and 30 years behind the times. It is discouraging to firefighters that do keep current to know none of what they learned matters and probably won’t until that officer retires.
6) Maintain a good sense of humor. Innocent pranks and giving each other a hard time are a long lasting tradition that is good fun and builds comradery. It can be a real tension reducer if it doesn’t get out of hand. This is not to be confused with harassment of any sort, sexual, racial, religious or otherwise.
7) Mentor, lead by example, be honest, and have integrity. I have always believed that bad news given honestly and directly is better received that sugar coated lies.
If you have additional thoughts please add them. If you disagree please tell me why and let’s talk about it.