The Leader’s Dilemma

You are the volunteer fire chief in a small, suburban community. Your fire department has been in business for well over 100 years and is a fixture in your area. You have been a member for a long time and thought you were comfortable in your role as the...


You are the volunteer fire chief in a small, suburban community. Your fire department has been in business for well over 100 years and is a fixture in your area. You have been a member for a long time and thought you were comfortable in your role as the chief. However, things have been happening...


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At the base of all human relations is the concept of behavior. These are the actions of the individual and are based on a wide variety of factors that stimulate people as they mature to adulthood. We seek to study how people act so that we may explain what they do and predict how they will act in the future. If we can do this, we might be able to develop some way to influence people in the performance of their duties.

The study of individual human behavior is very complex. Each of us is a unique individual shaped by the events of our specific lives. Hereditary, environmental and group interactions serve as part of the crucible within which each of us is formed as a unique human being. Let us look at factors that affect us:

  • Physiological variables, such as body style
  • Psychological variables, such as perceptions, attitudes, learning ability, motivation and personality
  • Environmental variables during infancy, adolescence and adulthood
  • Social class

No one factor can ever be divorced from the others in a study of the people around you. Each person in your fire department is a complete and unique package at all times and in all places. Let us now take a closer look at the parts of the human equation. Research has shown that different body types respond differently to both training and nutrition. As a result, you must be aware of what your body type is so that you can design a training and workout program accordingly. William Sheldon (1898-1977) was an American psychologist who observed all the variety of human bodies. He taught at several universities and spent his career doing valuable research. As a child, he was an avid observer of animals and birds; as he grew up, this hobby turned into a strong ability to observe the human body.

The basics of body types are:

  • The endomorph – The happy, chubby person who is not physically active, eats a lot and prefers to relax
  • The ectomorph – The thin, shy and jumpy type of person who is somewhat nervous, easily spooked and hesitant to act
  • The mesomorph – The hard-charging football running back kind of person who is action oriented and physical in nature

Each of these individuals will require a different supervisory style from you, their leader. You might have to stimulate the endomorph, restrain the mesomorph, and protect, defend and stimulate the ectomorph.

A number of mental activities must be considered within the framework of organizational psychology and its impact on your fire department. Their effects make your job a lot harder. Let us look at them:

  • Frustration – The ability of individuals to withstand and deal with roadblocks placed in their way
  • Conflict – The operation of dissimilar kinds of behavior at the same time; for example, you want to sleep and your pager is beeping to wake you up for a run in the middle of the night
  • Anxiety – Any threat to your well-being or needs gratification such as hunger, thirst or fear

In addition to these mental factors, certain environmental variables are at work in your life and the lives of your people. Each of us has developed within a particular type of family and community environment. Think about the following influences and how they might affect the psychological development of an individual:

  • Early infancy – A happy, loving home with two parents, versus a single-parent home, versus the impact of an orphanage or foster care
  • Adolescence – Urban versus suburban
  • Social class – Upper class versus middle class or working class

It is my opinion that what you are today involves some combination of all of these factors. My research, combined with the living of my life, leads me to understand the importance of the many potential combinations of factors you will encounter within the ranks of your fire department.

Consider the psychological variables that are always at work within the people in your department. All of them come together to influence their behavior:

  • Perceptions – How you receive life’s clues and symbols
  • Attitudes – Your mental state of readiness for needs arousal; your readiness to think, act and perform
  • Learning – The change in behavioral practices occasioned by education and experience
  • Motivation – The rewards that make actions worthwhile
  • Personality – The combination of cultural and social factors that people develop to meet the needs and expectations of their overall social group