Mentorship; The Good, The Bad, The Indifferent
Nicholas Christensen, CFO, MPA
It would be fair to say that in today’s society there are many different types of mentorship approaches. The ones we naturally choose to hold onto and emulate ourselves are predominantly the positive ones. Throughout a Firefighter’s career, they will get to experience many positive mentors who will influence and mold them into professional masters of their craft. However, there are some approaches that can be negative and indifferent that can also be of value to hold close in your mind.
Everyone has that Firefighter, that Officer, and that Chief Officer that they remember and looked up to when they first came on the job for their positive characteristics and approach. Normally, these are traits that you choose to emulate and help define yourself as you move through your career. Professionalism, integrity, honesty, loyalty, strong interpersonal skills, and taking the time to always help those around them to become better, just to name a few. These of course are truly expected in a career field as competitive as the fire service. As a family and a brotherhood/sisterhood that operates with each other under extreme circumstances on a regular basis, this is the type of environment you would want to have. However, not all are one in the same.
We have all encountered them at some point. The “Doomsday” mentality, where nothing is ever good enough. The “High Horse” mentality, where the work you produce is never sufficient, the job you completed is never as good as what they could have done. The “Autocratic” mentality, where it is their way or nothing else. Of additional note, those that choose to talk down to their people in a group setting in an attempt to belittle and degrade. It seems that no matter how good things are, something is always wrong and their approach is negative. However, learn from these mentoring opportunities as well, and choose to use that as an education in what NOT to do. Take the negative experience and make it your positive on how you remember those situations or personality types. Turn that into a positive growth experience for yourself, in how you will remember how not to treat people or conduct yourself.
This one is a little tricky, but stay with me. At times you will encounter a mentorship opportunity in which perhaps you don’t really care for the person, and you may not see eye-to-eye, but they have certain characteristics that are of tremendous value. Story time…I once was a Captain in my early days in that role. I had a personality conflict with an individual, in a previous organization at the time, who exhibited some of the negative characteristics mentioned above. It would have been easy for me to simply write that individual off and just focus on positive leadership characteristics of others, but there were some things that I held onto from that experience. Although this individual was condescending, sure, and autocratic, absolutely, but they also were a very proactive leader with a unique way of motivating Firefighters and reminding them of the importance of our responsibility, and the need to always train and be prepared. Ultimately, did I enjoy working with this individual? No. However, I still have held onto some of their characteristics for my own mentorship. Although we were indifferent, this was still another opportunity to be mentored in an out of the ordinary way.
Everyone’s personality is unique and different, you can’t always treat everyone the same these days. Some will have all the good mentorship traits, some will have all the bad ones, and some will have the indifferent. Shift your focus beyond just the positive traits, and take the negative and indifferent traits to turn into a positive mentorship take away. Sometimes you can learn just as much from how people shouldn’t act as you can from how they should. Every day is an opportunity to mentor someone, do it right.