It’s hard to comprehend how those driven individuals who are hell-bent on moving the fire service forward are constantly excommunicated from their organizations and told to keep quiet. Those who are not silenced – rather, those celebrated few – are considered visionaries who serve to propel their departments forward as destination organizations to which we should all aspire to be a part of. It’s all about the climate of acceptance within the agency. It’s all about want for change.
Let’s be very clear, vision is scary to some people. Vision requires the ability to look ahead, to listen, and most of all it requires a lot of hard work to see the vision actualized.
I have flirted with the subject of listening to voices of all ranks in the organization before in “Trouble Maker.” Those who sit on their opinions and wait for others to answer the tough questions aren’t the ones who lead. They wait for someone else to be the villain and then latch on to the point – once made – after the ice is broken. A fatal leadership flaw is a lack of openness to new ideas or suggestions. Another fatal flaw in leadership is being a fake.
From “Trouble Maker”:
It is interesting – to me, anyway – that in IFSTA Company Officer, Fourth Edition, Ch 2- Leadership, the curriculum identifies the traits that differentiate managers from leaders. In short, managers maintain while leaders push the envelope.
Here are some examples:
- Managers ask how and when; leaders ask what and why.
- Managers accept the status quo; leaders challenge the status quo.
- Managers are classic good soldiers; leaders are their own people.
Supplant the word manager for firefighter and take a moment to consider how firefighters (and company officers) are sometimes treated. We often tell our firefighters to accept the status quo, to be good soldiers, to be drones. “That’s how it is done here. We’ve always done it that way.”
Be a “yes” man and you’ll go far my son. Question the conventional and you’re in for a bumpy ride. Fasten your seat-belt.
In so many words, “Don’t challenge the establishment. Everything is fine the way it is.”
Now go back and look at what the traits of a leader are. If you have a firefighter, company officer, or chief who asks a lot of questions, who challenges accepted practice by bringing in fresh ideas, stands out from the crowd, and is their own person, what label are they given?
Remember, these are considered leadership traits.
Would you call them noisy complainers (a euphemism for big pain in the ass)?
I’ll bet in most organizations anywhere in the world the answer is yes, they are considered huge pains in the ass. Once again fire service literature and traditions are a study in contradiction.
We must be hungry. The new fire service cannot exist on reputation. Hunger and drive for perfection is what will define our fire service. We must rally around each other. What will emerge will be a leaner, stronger, and smarter machine that carries us forward.