I recently had a conversation with fellow firefighters about the importance of documenting their exposures after a fire. Most of them said that they agree that it is an important part of post fire procedures and state they wish the process was more convenient. So, I created an online survey that they can access on their phone and fill it out in a matter of seconds. Several fires go by and I am still getting one to two exposure forms, knowing full well that there were many more exposures. Frustrated, I started asking myself why are they not filling these forms out like I asked them to. Why would they not want documentation of an exposure that could potentially result in cancer? The one thing I keep coming back to is they must not think it truly matters. Or even worse, that they truly don't matter.
In the fire service, we sometimes think that the only things that should be given priority or that really matter, are things that can equal life or death. We as administrators often have conversations about how our people don't care. They must not care enough to do what is right, because they are not doing what we ask them to do. They just don't get it. But let me ask you this, as a leader, have you taken the time out of your busy day to have a discussion with your crews about what matters and why it matters? Do your crews think that they matter to you? I believe this is a fundamental weakness in the fire service leadership today, and I have noticed over the years that it is continually worsening. We as fire service leaders feel pressure to provide quality service with limited budgets, competing political priorities and increasing demands. Because of this, we get so focused on those things, we allow our daily schedule to get filled up with them. When our schedule is filled with the noise, we forget to prioritize time for the most important part of our job, leading our people. For example, today, as the department training officer, if I choose to just clear out the training that other members have put into our system without ensuring it is correct, it can have a trickle down effect. I rationalize that it's no big deal because I have really been busy with the priorities of others and just need to get this done so I can move onto the next priority. Time goes by and when the person puts in for re-certification they come up short for the requirements. This occurs not because they didn't do the work, but because I didn't prioritize my work. As a firefighter, you check your fire equipment because it matters. It matters to you, your crew and the citizens we respond for. And because what you do every day matters, YOU MATTER.
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING we do or don't do in the fire service has a result. From cleaning the bathrooms to fighting fires. That result can be positive or negative. Sometimes, that result is out of our control and sometimes it’s because we didn’t do what we knew we should do. So, why do we choose to not do the right thing? I believe it's because we don't fully believe that we matter. This feeling comes from poor leadership in many cases. Managers, often are never taught or don't take the time to learn how to manage themselves and their time. This often results in being overwhelmed and unorganized. It is easy to allow your schedule to be filled with things that matter to others, but are you filling your schedule with the things that matter to you as a leader? If you are not, then you are neglecting the one thing that should be your priority as a leader and that is the development of your people. If your people are a priority to you as a leader, you must prioritize time for them on your schedule. I'm not talking about the obligatory all staff meetings. These meetings require an agenda and often are official in nature. The time I'm talking about is more personal and intentional, focusing on them as people, not employees. This can be something as simple as having lunch with them once a month, just dropping in to say hello or giving them a call to ask how things are going. If crews appear to be uncomfortable when you come around and visit, you have some work to do.
When you start to prioritize your people, your people begin to feel that they matter to you. When your people feel they matter, they do what they know is right. When they do what they know is right, they begin to see that everything they do matters to someone, whether that is the department, the citizen, themselves, their family or their fellow firefighters. You see how this works. When this is done right, the conversations of why won’t they just do things goes away? They can't be expected to just know what matters, we as leaders need to lead them into that. If you are waiting for it to just happen because you are a good guy and people like you, then you are going to be consistently frustrated by the lack of positive results. As a leader, you need to do what you know is right, not what is easy, and that means leading your people, because YOU Matter Too.