I fully understand the irony of this post as I sit here on my laptop, with my big screen TV, while checking my smart phone, and posting a blog…
When I was a young volunteer officer the internet became a huge thing. Now we could interact with people all over the world, I could play a video game with someone in not just another state but another country! No longer did you have to write letters to someone and wait for the reply, you could send them an email and get feed-back faster than ever before.
Not only that, our equipment was improving. The belt mounted regulators and elephant tubes I learned on were getting replaced by mask mounted regulators, thermal imagining cameras had begun to become as common as the irons in a fire ground tool compliment, and now fire apparatus had airbags!
About this time my dad who was and still is very old school in everything he does (although even he has a smart phone today) began to question the effectiveness of email and how it was disappointing how that was replacing actual face to face communication. At the time I thought he was just failing to change with the times. The ramblings of the older generation that could not see the potential in technology, and what it could do for us. Today a little older and wiser I think he may have been right.
Think about your average day now, how much true human interaction do you truly have. How many of your “friends” on facebook are truly your friends? How often do you check your phone for that next email, or social media post? How many misunderstandings have been had over a 140 character tweet, or an email that just didn’t quite hit the mark? Even our apparatus and equipment have become so sophisticated that firehouse fixes and mechanical reasoning have away in favor of spread sheets.
Please do not get me wrong, we as a society and fire service have benefitted greatly from technological advances. Our gear is safer than ever, our apparatus is safer than ever, and we have been aided by research to have actual proof on what does and does not work on the fire ground.
However we have lost that human connection to one another, and I am just as at fault as anyone. As few years ago as a recently promoted Lieutenant I thought it would be a good idea to email my new shift my expectations for them. I thought this will help them get to know what I am all about prior to me arriving and it will allow us to hit the ground running. WRONG!!!!! It was awful, it pissed people off and it made my job as a new officer that much harder. We laugh about it now but it was a critical leadership failure, because it affected culture and people’s lives. It was changing their normal, but due to my excitement I could not see it.
Hearts and minds, buy in, change for your organization do not happen through email. They happen through true face to face communication, so that explanations can be clear, emotions can be understood, and conversations can be had. Sure emails, memos, etc. can be great for certain things. If a road is closed, hydrant is out of service, even if you adding a unit to a response plan. However when you are dealing with true cultural change or affecting people’s lives, those things should be shared on a face to face basis. This may be difficult for large organizations, and may extend completion time for certain projects or objectives, and in the end you will still have members who do not agree and will never agree. However they will not be able to say these policies where handed down electronically, without the ability to comment on them, or without the message being distorted by trying to interpret and email, or memo.
Let’s make leadership more human again. Let’s actually talk to the people we work with, who work for us, and who we work for. It may take time, and you may lose some sleep some nights, but I think it will be worth it.
As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!