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“There ain’t no bumps in that dirt road.”

I say this as a description of Fire Officers who are able to take their situation, their dirt road, and consistently smooth out the bumps, navigate around the mud and continue to advance, and be followed, because of their ability to solve problems with balance, steadiness and common sense, accompanied by their team building skills and their desire to win. You have seen them too.

Leadership boiled down to the simplest terms is setting out to move along a dirt road.

The leader chooses the road and the reason for the trip, hopefully with some positive plan and a meaningful team purpose in mind. If the trip lacks reason and purpose, the dirt road is simply a conveyance or the latest initiative and the team members, who are sucking the dust, will very quickly recognize a poorly planned and unorganized organization and another pathetic exercise with little chance of success. They get tired of being tired and suffering from new initiative fatigue.

Where in the hell are we going?

The team that consistently excels over others is a team that will function better when the leader is absent. Team members who feel trusted and valued will maintain the pace; feel free to think, they are not micromanaged and they make the push without freelancing. They are vital members of a proud advancing team, they know it and that’s all that they need.

If in your absence as a Leader, your team loses pace, falls behind, gets lost, is late, lacks the juice, fails to get it and lacks the desire to reach the other end of the dirt road and to be the first to engage with purpose, you have not led and you are not a leader. Your every day is spent bogged down in muddy ruts analyzing and blaming your lot on inherited problems or the Officers that you promoted and other flimsy excuses for your own failure to engage, solve problems, to trust and to lead. You are not much more than a babysitter, an emblem of failed leadership and you make a great target for internal and enemy sniping.

When we lead, we rely on intelligence, history, knowledge and purpose. We recognize the enemy and we look forward to the fight. We surround ourselves with experienced scouts, capable woodsmen, bridge builders, forecasters, and we encourage them to be free thinkers and to tell us when we are off course or losing focus.

Great teams are made up of individuals with many different skill sets. Great dirt road leaders utilize these skills and the combined brain trust of the team, so that everyone on the road trip is engaged, involved, overcoming obstacles and adding their special value to the team mission.

He said “she’s too small.” I said “she’s geared low.”

He said “he needs a haircut.” I said “I’ll give him the money he sole supports his Father, Mother and Brothers and Sisters and he works hard for you too.”

He said “why is the rear tire on the lawn.” I said “I’ll ask the chauffer as soon as he grabs the third victim off that balcony.”

He said “what’s going on there? I’ve called your phone twice.” I said “my phone is under my PPE and we are hustling with victims on Tac 3 – turn your radio on.”

He said “did you notice anything strange about that staff meeting?” I said “they are all a bit strange to me.” He said “how about the uniforms.” I said “well I did notice that I was the only one in proper uniform.” He said “I’ll call you back.” Crickets.

He said “Blah, Blah, Blah, Yatta, Yatta, Yatta.” I said “let me borrow your portable radio.” I removed his battery, stuck it in my coat pocket and handed the radio back and I said “now talk all you want, go join your company and put the fire out and come see me when you are finished and maybe I’ll give you your battery back.”

He said “what if we.” I said “do you want command?” He said “what can I get you.” I said “a 7-11 with cream and sugar.”

He said “he doesn’t spell or write well.” I said “he hustles, gives me what he has and he works hard on his masters in street smarts, proud to have him.”

He said “this safety yard stick promotes Fire Prevention and Fire Safety.” I said “that’s great, can I get a blue one that measures operational efficiency and morale?”

I think that maybe I was a woodsman, a scout, an engineer and sometimes I sucked dust and pushed with the crews when the road got exceptionally muddy and filled with ruts. I lost some and I won many more and I always took pride in the fact that my superiors seemed to be glad to see me show up and that they knew that my team came to hustle.

When we lead, we respect and revere our troops and we proudly let them know it. We defend them fiercely when they are right and we correct them quietly and together when they fall short of expectations. We eat when they have been fed and we take water after they are refreshed. Our supply chain and support vehicles kick up the most dust on the dirt road; because they are operationally mission critical and leaders and planners make sure that they outnumber everything else on the road.

Well cared for teams fight better when they understand that they are trusted and important. This includes senior flag bearers who have travelled down many dirt roads and still function with ambassadorship and pride, common sense problem solving unit leaders with level heads who don’t fear a little mud and dust and water boys who want to someday carry the colors but for now outhustle everyone else because they understand the importance of what may appear to be their seemingly small role. All great leaders served once as exceptional water boys and they remember when.

My walk on the dirt road lasted for forty-two years, thirty-seven of which I walked with proud teams of winners, as a learning Leader. Oddly enough, I realized that I already had everything that I needed for success, before I pinned on the Fire Service badge for the first time and I believe that most people do.

All of our dirt roads are different and yet the same. Complacency, a failure to lead due to a fear of failure, self-serving attitudes, an unwillingness to trust, a failure to critically critique and to establish an open team dialogue are the bumps, fallen trees and mud holes that bog leaders down and separate the winners from whiners.

I have never known a winner who was accustomed to waiting well.

Leaders teach leading by example and encourage young leaders by standing beside them.

How does your team function on your day off?

Is your team kicking up dust or sucking dust?

Do you recruit, hire, train and promote common sense, thinking and problem solving?

Does your transparency look like just another mud h*** to those who are behind you?

Do you have more rules than people?

Thanks for reading, caring and sharing.

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

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