The Journey: The Little Things

In this series, we have touched on many of the major issues of developing leadership skills. To continue our discussion on the journey to leadership, I would like to take a moment to discuss some of the little things.


Be happy – I don’t know many firefighters who aren’t happy in the firehouse, but if you are one of those, put on the game face and look happy. No one wants to work with grumps, crabs or grouches. Those guys will have their retirement parties in a telephone booth. Do you want to be remembered as “grumpy old what’s his name?”

Leave your problems outside – When you step through the door of the firehouse, leave the problems on the apron. Your problems are your problems, not anyone else’s. This should not affect your leadership. Just because you are having a bad day, doesn’t mean everyone else has to.

Control the “Evil Twin” – You know the guy who looks like you, but doesn’t act like you. One day he doesn’t care about anything and the next he is strictly by the book. The guys won’t know who is showing up, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. You can control him by being consistent.

Bend the rules when necessary – Rules were not meant to be broken, maybe just bent a little. (In extreme cases, they may be broken, because sometimes it is necessary to break them to get something done.) When you break the rules, it must be for a greater good. A good rule for rule breaking, if their can be such a thing, is know the rule you are breaking and the reason you are breaking it. We break rules sometimes for expediency. It is easier to beg for forgiveness afterward than ask permission. Breaking the rules will have a consequence. It may be easy to make light of begging for forgiveness, but the outcome of your action will figure heavily into the repercussions. When the rules are broken at a fire scene, most of the time the response is you will either get a medal or get called up on charges.

Keeping secrets – The fire service is no place for secrets. Knowledge is only valuable when it is shared. If you know something there is probably a good chance that someone else should know it too. You might not be around all the time. If you are the one withholding information that causes someone to get hurt or killed, how are you going to feel? Weak and ineffective leaders use knowledge as a weapon and see it as job security. They think if they share what they know, then they might not need me. If I am the only one who knows it, they can’t get rid of me. However, no one person is indispensable. The job you are doing was probably done by someone before you, and if not and it is important enough, it will be done by someone after you. How easy the transition depends on how much you have shared.

Rumor control – No one likes a gossip. If you are a leader, what you say carries with it built-in credibility. If you’re the man, your word is golden. Tell people what you know because communication is a key in successful organizations. Stick to what you can prove to be the truth. This can be difficult. There may be others giving you information with the intent to deceive you. Stick to what you know, or preface the comment with something that indicates you are not completely sure, “This is what I have been told.” It’s not a copout; it’s preserving your integrity!

Be prepared to leave – For most in the fire service, the job is a lifelong commitment. But there will come a day when you will not be able to continue doing the job you love. Injury or illness can change your plans. Downsizing, consolidation of departments, or budgets cuts can cause you to make tough decisions on what to do next. It sounds derogatory when someone says that guy was planning his retirement from the day he got on the job. For most of us, just getting the job is fulfillment of a lifelong dream that we don’t ever think about leaving.

However, the day will come for all of us when we have to hang up the coat for the last time. It will be an emotional time. What will you do with the free time, assuming of course you’re physically capable of using it? Stay as active as you can. I’ve been told when your time is up you will know it; I’ll have to let you know.

We will complete our series in next month when we talk further on the journeys end.

Until next time, Stay Safe.

  • See Chris Live! Lt. Christopher Flatley, will be presenting "Aggressive Interior Fire Attack: Critical Skills for the Engine Company Success and Safety" at Firehouse Expo, July 19 - 23, in Baltimore.