Why Don't They Listen to Me?

 


  You are the volunteer fire chief in a small community. Your fire department has been in business for 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 lately...


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You are the volunteer fire chief in a small community. Your fire department has been in business for 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 lately that cause you to be uneasy. People question every order you give and every request you make. The normally active volunteers who were the backbone of the department for many years are not turning out. They are skipping the alarm malfunctions, trash fires and false alarms. It is getting lonely in the middle of the night with just a few people turning out.

Many of these people have been buddies for years; many were childhood friends. Where once you experienced a great sense of teamwork you now see a group of people who seem to be acting as selfish individuals.

Guess what — there is a good reason for what you are seeing. These people are individuals and they are returning to the roots of elementary human behavior. You are suffering through one of the great problems every person in a leadership position faces. People are unique and you must take this into account every time you interact with members of your team.

You cannot lead your people in the way proposed by early management and leadership studies, when people were considered to be nothing more than resources much like water, steel, wood or money. They were thought to be expendable "things," rather than individual human beings with feelings and emotions. Today, we (hopefully) look at things differently.

This change did not come overnight. It came over time as a result of a wide variety of studies completed by colleges and universities around the world. Many of these studies started out as projects to identify how companies could get more labor out of each worker. Change came about at least in part as a result of the human relations movement within management research. This movement began as a seemingly accidental offshoot of a time-and-motion study conducted at the Hawthorne facility of the Western Electric Co. in Illinois from 1927 to 1932. Its original premise involved altering environmental variables in an industrial setting.

Elton Mayo and fellow Harvard researchers were assessing the impact of various lighting levels in the factory. When light was added to their working environment, people worked harder. This made sense to the researchers. To qualify this, they took away light to see what would happen. Rather than drop back to a lower level of productivity, these people began to work even harder. After experimenting with a number of environmental factors, the researchers came to believe that it was the attention being paid to them that motivated the workers, not the factors themselves. One interesting element of the study was that the workers' productivity seemed to improve when changes were made and slumped when the study was concluded.

At the base of all human relations is the concept of behavior. These are the actions of the individual and are based on 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 complex. Factors that affect us include physiological variables, such as body style; psychological variables, such as perceptions, attitudes, learning ability, motivation and personality; environmental variables during infancy, adolescence and adulthood; and 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.

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