Within the next few months, my department is going to be undertaking a huge shift. Several of our senior command staff officers including our fire chief will be retiring. These are exciting and scary times for everyone involved. Exciting because the moves made in the next few months will/could determine the organization we are and the direction we go for the next 10 years! Scary because good, bad, or indifferent we know what we have with our current leadership complement and the thought of the unknown with new leadership in critical roles can be something that keeps people awake at night.
This has made me think a lot about if it was up to me, where would I send the organization, or more importantly how would I lead a organizaiton or even on a smaller scale a shift or company through times like this? What values would I want to instill in my company officers, firefighters, and the like?
A few years ago an officer who I have a lot of respect for, and now have the privilege of working for introduced me to a term, and leadership philosophy called “Servant Leadership”. Simply put the only reason an organization exists is to serve its customers. So in turn the only reason the leadership exists is to serve the subordinates.
An example would be the company officer. His sole job in its base form is to make sure that his/her firefighters have everything they need to serve the customer. These “needs” run the gauntlet from more training on hose deployment, to a hot meal at the end of the tour but the point is to make sure that the firefighters have everything they need in order to provide the best service delivery to the customer. Now much like your parents making you eat your vegetables sometimes the things your subordinates “need” are not going to coincide with everything they “want” or “like”.
This should go from the top down. The Fire Chief should make sure that his Assistants or Deputies have everything they need in order to do their job, and so on and so on. Applying this leadership model takes the leaders ego, and needs out of it and focuses on the needs of those you swore to protect and serve.
At the end of the day the fire service itself is a service industry. We exist to serve the citizen/customer who require our services. This is not down playing the extraordinary feats that happen every day in fire departments all over the world, however it is an attempt to really realize our true mission. Sure rescuing a fire victim is a feat of bravery, and should be regarded as such, but taking care of someone who broke their arm is just an important. The only difference is the level of service needed to mitigate the need of the customer, but the preparation for both must be spot on at all times.
These are values I feel that are desperately needed in a lot of organizations. The whats in it for me attitude and the attitude of self entitlement have no place in the fire service as this job is not about us, or you. Sure we deserve to make a living, and have a pension but that is the reward for providing a term of service that should meet the needs of those in which you swore to serve. Simply showing up and putting in time is not enough.
Please feel free to share some of your thoughts on leadership in the comments section, or on twitter @averagejakeff.
As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!