Effective Chief Fire Officer Behaviors

  Do you ever shake your head at what your fire personnel say or do? Does firefighter behavior continue to stupefy you and deny plausible explanation? If you feel a little exasperated with the myriad behaviors of today’s firefighters, take stock...


  Do you ever shake your head at what your fire personnel say or do? Does firefighter behavior continue to stupefy you and deny plausible explanation? If you feel a little exasperated with the myriad behaviors of today’s firefighters, take stock that there are strategies for coping and...


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Point: This situation is totally unacceptable and strong leadership will correct it as soon as possible. Employees are paid to do a job and they must understand this obligation, unless they don’t want to accept their paychecks. That should be enough motivation to reverse this dynamic. Company officers also must be held accountable and a rapid turnaround should be expected by commanding officers. After all, a tight ship entails clean equipment, stations and response vehicles along with personnel who are quick to do their jobs when duty calls. Anything less is a betrayal of public trust.

Counterpoint: If you’re the chief, here’s a little challenge for you – next time you’re walking through the station, ask your firefighters to explain to you (in their own words) what the department’s mission and vision statements mean to them. Our guess is that if the conditions above describe your department, you’ll be met with blank stares or maybe a canned statement like “to protect and serve.” What’s that you say? Your department doesn’t have a vision or mission statement? We just found your starting point.

Vision and mission statements are vital tools for all organizations. Just as it implies, the vision statement describes the organization’s vision or view for the future – where the organization would like to go. The mission statement is a statement of the organization’s purpose – what it will take to achieve its vision. Finally, a values statement outlines the organization’s core beliefs – the culture and behaviors that support the organization’s vision and mission.

Here’s the most important part. For them to be effective, they must be a shared set of vision, mission and values. Make sure they are developed with input from all stakeholders – including your firefighters. It’s not enough to just hang a sign in the day room to communicate the organization’s vision, mission and values; they must be internalized by all members of the organization and used to drive all decisions (not a quick or easy task). Finally, specific goals must be in place to ensure the organization meets its mission and continually moves toward its vision. Measure and monitor the progress toward these goals. Just as in the other two situations, the journey begins with some open and courageous conversations between firefighters and management.

Conclusion

Today’s workforce is motivated differently from that of a generation or two ago and the astute fire officer not only recognizes that, but takes action by making well-thought-out adjustments. In the strategies above, the “point” opinions take the traditional approach of “you will do as you are told.” This one-sided method of leading an organization has been used over the years exhaustively, and sadly is still being used too often. The “counterpoint” opinions take a more humanistic approach to employee motivation and behavior. This two-sided method relies on respectful communications where people strive to understand others first. In doing so, this method is most effective in getting personnel involved and contributing to the organization. People will respond if they are dealt with as partners when it comes to participating in the goals of the organization. The secret, then, for today’s modern executive fire officer is to look at personnel more as stakeholders and unleash their innate resources in the pursuit of organizational success.

The next article in this series will look at employee motivation through the effective and appropriate use of sources of power, all while being true and consistent with your organization’s vision, mission and values.