A few thoughts about the Convention and mentoring. While I was in Seattle, I was really blessed to have time with a former member of my company. This is an upstanding young fireman and just seeing him again was good, but to see him succeeding at being a probie in a large department made me feel really good. In Alaska, so many of the young brothers move on to bigger and better things and we rarely get time to see them as they move into their own.
So we're walking along talkin' about his new department and he thanks me for hangin' in there with him. I think, geez, that was years ago now. This guy is young, but no fresh fish. He's been through alot since he and I parted ways. But he still takes time to give me credit for all his hard work. Really though, he's sayin' something different.
This guy is one of those who excel at just about everything they tackle. You know the type. They are hard working when motivated, good at whatever they do, and they tend to be a little sharper than the average tack. They are always good to have in the company, good to have them on the line. You know they can do the job. These days, with so few fires to help the crew get experience, that one particular brother can really make a difference.
This brother can also really derail your teamwork. They are easily bored. They frequently get frustrated with the amount of time you have to spend on the less sharp tacks. To be frank, with all their God given skill at firefighting, these guys are really behind the eight ball when dealing with other people. They confront authority with contempt (born out of frustration), they withhold their enthusiasm whenever they perceive a slight and basically they need to have the s*** kicked out of them a few times. They keep you stressed and everyone kind of breaths a sigh of relief when they're gone.
But really, they aren't the problem are they. The real problem is our lack of understanding how thier personality fits into our company. This guy in Seattle is a perfect example. It took time, and I really had to put thought into every act and communication with him, but we succeeded together, in helping him mature in the job. These guys are the best. Once you get buy in from them, they won't vier off course. They are loyal, once you've earned their respect. And in this particular brother's case, career shaping.
In this generation of young people, you can't bully or scare your way through leadership. Mentoring programs only work if both parties and the department have buy in. If you want to lead these young people, you have to deal with them honestly, with integrity and fairly. Being a company officer has always been a full time job. Nothing has changed in the new century. We still deal with people. I still deal with new, young firefighters, just like the one in Seattle. On any given day in the house, I'm paying attention to each individual personality, some more than others, but each day I assess each member. To really make a difference, to mentor, you have to be clued into your people. The reward is too great to put words to.
We crossed the street, other FOOLS walking behind, we had a moment to talk, and here he is trying to tell me thank you, when all I really did was pay attention to him, and did my job. He is the one who had to make the decisions about his life and had to perform to get where he is now. My pride in him was overwhelming.
You see, for the mentor, all the time invested can easily feel like a waste of time as the mentoree pulls a "crazy ivan" and does something unforseen or foolish. DUI's, transfers, moving to another department in search of a "real job", or quitting the fire service for something more "real". But in the end, if you were true to your calling, they come back and for a brief moment, they reach out and say something like "thanks for believing in me" and you realize your time was well spent, wisely invested and as productive as anything you've ever accomplished. But you have to earn that. You have to invest the time first. Every time you do this with one of your members, you are multiplying yourself and your experience. You are strengthening the fire service. So be aware of the image you present, the things you say, the ethics you demonstrate, and the brotherhood you show. The reward is seeing them on the "job", ...mentoring others, as you did with them. What a blessing for the fire service.
Here's the nugget: These guys are worth the effort.