Is Your Fire Department a Pasture or a Petri Dish?

Once again my friends it is question and answer time. It seems that a recent communication from a dear friend of mine stirred up my creative juices. One of my recent commentaries caused him to make a rather telling comment on the manner in which his...


Once again my friends it is question and answer time. It seems that a recent communication from a dear friend of mine stirred up my creative juices. One of my recent commentaries caused him to make a rather telling comment on the manner in which his agency operates. He asked if I had a placed a hidden video camera at his facility. Of course, no such camera ever exists (at least in my life and world) and I told him so. I replied to that person that my task as a writer and commentator was to observe the world around me and then make such cogent comments as my research, education, and experience allow.

He then suggested that his workplace was a Petri dish for bad leadership and management. It was at this point that the light bulb above my head flashed on and I quickly sent an e-mail back with the comment that is now the title of this visit with you. In that message I suggested that there were two places where things are expected to grow. We need to look at how each works to see the merit within my message.

Let me first suggest that there are the fertile pastures in our world where great crops of food are raised to feed and nurture our growing population. This is a positive thing. This is a place where good things happen because of the labors of hard-working people. Then there is the Petri dish which has served as a basic building block in our scientific labs for a long time now.

The Petri dish is a shallow glass or plastic cylindrical dish which scientists use to grow cultures of bacteria and other such yucky stuff. While these devices serve a very useful scientific purpose, the things which grow within them are most vile things indeed.

How many of you can recall the experiments back in science class in high school (or college) where you had to grow a particular culture over a period of time? It is herein where the tie-in to my words in this commentary occurs. I am suggesting to you that it is your fire department's operational culture which is being examined here. Does your culture support the growth of healthy human participants, or do you grow moldy, dispirited clods? Let me give you some clues as to how to create the proper atmosphere for personnel growth and development within your world.

It has been my observation that great deal of research has been undertaken over the decades with the express purpose of that work being the identification of what the researchers discover to be the latest twists and turns in the world of leadership theory. Sometimes I think that there has been more research done on the topic of leadership and its related effects than there has been on the serious diseases of our society. But I could be wrong about that.

As a result of all of this research, much has been written about the importance of leaders in every aspect of our lives. I have been involved in this effort to be sure, but I often though that something was missing. This article has been written in response to my finding about the two sides of the leadership coin. I have learned one thing for sure. It isn't just about leaders my friends. It is about followers too.

Let me suggest that when you study leaders you are only studying one half of the equation. What good is the best leader in the history of the world if there is an absence of well-trained and properly motivated followers? This is something which has interested me for a number of years now. I guess the importance of followers came to me slowly during the time I was completing my doctorate in leadership at Capella University.

There are a number of reasons for my interest in this topic. As a veteran of more than 47 years' service in the fire and emergency services world I have seen a great deal. My exposure to a wide range of both leaders and followers through the years has given me great pause to ponder this issue. While I recognize the criticality of leadership, I have discovered that the absence of good people to support the leader can be a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to having a well-function fire organization.

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