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I was watching a Simon Sinek “Ted Talks” motivational video on Leadership. He spoke on something that opened my eyes, he said “why do we do it?”

Instantly my brain adjusted to referencing how that statement could apply to me as well as the people I work with and more importantly the people we serve. I first started with why I became a Firefighter.

Why did I become a Firefighter? Such an odd question that when asked many of us are seemingly caught off guard and can’t describe it. The most summed up version is “because I love helping people” but there’s more to it than that. There are more reasons that the brain and the heart can’t put the words together to articulate exactly what it is that makes this so important to us, or why we love it so much. When I’m teaching my leadership development class I have a slide that asks “why are you here?” I get the deer in headlights look from each person as I randomly select a few and put them on the spot and have them answer. Some say that their Father was a firefighter while others may say that they just wanted the challenge. Those are both great answers, there’s nothing better than creating legacy firefighters in this business because it keeps certain traditions going. But as I said, the most common response is that of “I love helping people.” It seems cliché in this business to make that statement, it may also seem like common sense. Rest assure that is the correct response, Firefighters are a special breed; we are the only formulated group that the U.S. Marines consider as special as them. Some may roll their eyes at that statement, but for me I take pride in knowing that the organization that’s slogan is “the few, the proud” thinks that we are the one civilian job that comes close to what it is that makes them the few. We are the few, there aren’t many who can do what we do, see what we see, deal with the time away from loved one’s like we do. We are the few who scan the room to see what could go wrong and then conjure up a plan of execution in our heads on how we will mitigate any potential emergency if it happens. We are the few who stop (even if off duty) to help a person in need on the side of the road and as little as this seems we are definitely the type of people who will hold the door open for strangers as the enter or exit a building.

So why do we do it? Because we love helping people, because we have some odd strand of DNA that runs through us that makes us want to help, which makes us want to make our communities and the world better by attempting to be its problem solver. Simon Sinek also said “people don’t buy what we’re doing, they buy why we’re doing it.” Our customers (the general public) trust us with their lives, their loved ones and their properties. Even though they may not be able to comprehend exactly what it is that we’re doing, they understand that we are there because we love to help and they’re sold on just knowing that alone. They bought the “why” we are doing it.

This same question can be asked about leadership.

Many times we have leaders who also can’t answer why they are a leader. They sadly may have actually forgotten why they wanted to become a leader; or worst is that they became a leader because they wanted to be in charge.

Why did you become a leader, or why do you want to lead?

This question stimulates the brain and makes your eyes cringe and your face puzzled as you struggle to gather up some sort of sexy response justifying why it is that you want to lead. No one is truly interested in that, stuff like that looks good on t-shirts and sounds good in mission statements but in real life that is not the reason you want to lead. My challenge to those reading this is to ask yourself “why am I leading?” Think hard and try to go through any of the negativity or selfish thoughts, truly think why you are a leader.

My personal feeling can be simply summarized by referencing the earlier part…why do I lead? Because I love helping people. To me a leader is the person who loves helping as much as their people, the only difference is that they also love helping their people too. Leaders (true leaders) should also have that deer in the headlights look when asked this question. If there’s already an answer in the chamber it is ingenuine and lacks truth. Leaders want the best for their people, they want the best for their company, station, department etc. Leaders want to be able to help create a pathway for future leaders, they want to give direction and pass on that same passion to their people.

A leader who lacks those true qualities will have a tough time selling the “why” to their people because their people know the “why” is bogus. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Your rank is metaphorically “what” you do. Your ability to inspire others, give sound advice and not be publicly bias on situations is your “why.” Firefighters will buy into a leader if they’re truly living up to the “why.” If you are a leader and you feel that your people aren’t buying into your vision it’s because you aren’t selling the right reasons why you’re doing it in the first place.

“People buy why we do it.” Keep that in mind; our fellow Firefighters, the public and our people will be fully invested in what we are doing because they trust why it is that we’re doing it.

Dave McGlynn

Passion in Leading, LLC

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