It is that time of year when we begin to think about the long list of educational opportunities that are available to each of us in the Fire Service. It seems that the list grows every day. Whether we are traveling to the center of the country or to the West Coast, the type and range of opportunities for all sorts of training is on the rise.
This is a good thing. I have long been a proponent of training as the cure to many of our ills. It has been a personal observation that some of our worst problems have evolved (or popped up) based upon ignorance. We can cure ignorance with training and education. If people do not know, it is incumbent upon us to offer them opportunities to learn.
Stupidity is a tougher nut to crack. However, a friend of mine in the Midwest has offered me the perfect vehicle to begin my attack on fire service stupidity. He suggested that I create a very special fire service conference. In a recent e-mail to me he stated:
"The other night I stayed up late at home going over some FD stuff and long term planning. As I looked at some of the upcoming challenges facing me, my shift, and my department, and today's fire service, I thought, ‘…there must be a secret Poor Leadership Conference going on each year in this country’. Fortunately I have never received a brochure to this conference."
He further stated, "So I put my two fingers to work, and when I finished at 0211, these are the topics I thought would be offered at this secret conference. It's a spin off of the major instructor’s conference, but I did not intend to place a cloud over that successful, proactive conference. It turned out to be more of a ‘vehicle of vent’ for me, for at least I put my feelings into writing. Now (as I have learned from you) I must face the challenge of remaining a true and honest leader, and making sure I never wind up on the Fire Department Poor Leadership Conference mailing list."
Follow along as I share my friend’s frustration with how the fire service works. I will be injecting my commentary as the opportunities present themselves. My comments will be in an italicized format.
Fire Department Poor Leadership Conference
Overtime: Learning How To Shaft The Troops
Looking to make some quick and easy cuts while dousing morale and jeopardizing firefighter and community safety? Join us as we take a look at overtime expenditures and hack some easy money. Learn how to play it off as "a necessary move" to the firefighters, and then pass off false hopes that it will be restored in the next budget!
Far too many people in positions of leadership take an inward facing perspective. They have been inculcated with selfish values and have absolutely no cares for what people think about them. Unless those people are politicians who pull the strings on our leadership puppets. These people are lost already. I am writing for those of your who will grow up and take their places in the years to come.
"It’s Not My Fault": Passing The Buck
Can’t Recant? Sure You Can! Understand the latest trends in excuses when you make a poor decision. This session will show you how to place blame on anyone from the training division to the maintenance shop. When you make a big mistake, there’s no reason to stand up and be a responsible Chief Officer.
This is a very important course for gutless Chiefs. It takes a real miserable sort of person to blame everyone else for the sins of their own commission. But with just a little bit of effort, you can avoid having a conscience.
Power Play: Muscling In On Others
No one does your job better than you yourself. Now what? Why not make others look bad in order to gain more power for you? This fast paced session will demonstrate how easy it is to encroach upon someone else’s responsibility and turn the tables on them. At the conclusion of this course, you will know the true meaning of ruthlessness and self-gratification.
In the theater, this tactic is called hogging the spotlight. Stars who choose this method are not well received by their peers. But then, since they don’t give a damn about anyone else, what does it matter. This is empire building taken to its logical conclusion.
Staffing Cuts Made Easy
Ever want to reduce your workforce in order to look good in the eyes of the Mayor and City Council? When it’s all said and done, you will be able to cut your department to the bare minimum, fool the community into thinking they still have adequate fire protection, and run your people into the ground. You will also learn some of the best-kept secrets in dealing with minor setbacks such as increased response times, large dollar loss fires, and firefighter injuries and deaths. The highlight of this class will be not only how easy it is, but how to never lose a wink of sleep.
Not having a conscience is a tough skill to teach. It is hoped that most of us will grow to adulthood with a basic understanding of what is right, and what is wrong. We call that a good upbringing. However, in those people who are predisposed to be selfish, it is a trait that can be easily strengthened, broadened, and widened. That is the purpose of this workshop, making the selfish better at what they do.
One of the finest qualities of a poor leader is knowing how to drive the morale of the troops into the dirt. Some of the following fine points will be discussed:
· Not listening to experienced firefighters
· Making promises you never intended to keep
· Making up policies as you go
· Playing favorites
· Remaining reactive
· Finger pointing under stress
· My way or the highway
· Reinforcing "I told you so, your idea will never work"
Keeping folks in an unhappy state is easier than you may think.
It is rare that I offer a guarantee about anything. But taking advantage of this seminar will guarantee a continuing downward spiral in the morale of your people. People like to feel good about things they can buy into. But part of that buy in comes from developing a feeling of contribution to the cause. But using the sort of actions and attitudes portrayed above will rule out the chances of anyone becoming a stakeholder in your organization.
Saving Your Own Butt
It’s just another day at the office. You look down at those you command from your position of walking on water, and low and behold you make a blunder that could cost you everything you lied, cheated and stole to achieve. See how easy it is to cloud the truth and keep your throne. After all, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.
The truth is the enemy of the tyrant. A dictator will do everything within their power to avoid letting the concept of truth see the light of day. They will use propaganda to distort the truth to fit their individual, selfish needs. Whether that dictator is Adolph Hitler or Freddy the Fire Chief, the results are the same. Careers can be ruined and lives lost, in pursuit of one person’s jaundiced vision of the truth.
Be A Puppet Leader
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a Chief Officer that goes against all that is right both ethically and morally at the strings of politicians? After all, government leaders are the educated ones when it comes to running a fire department. See how easy it is to let the Mayor run the department while you sit back and read the newspaper.
Understand the importance of not rocking the boss’s boat while your department is sinking and you provide no life jackets to your people.
The last half-hour will be spent showing how to raise funds for the next election, whereby keeping your job for the next term.
There should be a required prerequisite for attending this course. Attendees should be required to provide surgical records to indicate that they have had their guts and intestines removed. People with intestinal fortitude will find it physically revolting to attend this seminar.
On the other hand, I frequently attended political rallies as a spy for the oppressed underclass. I had seen other people who could never have risen upward without politics. I was able to go underground and join in on the festivities without losing my perspective. I attribute this to the strong moral compass installed into me at an early age by my parents.
Industry Standards: Looking the Other Way
We are inundated with reams of recommendations each year by many organizations that are trying to save and protect firefighters, but what has really changed? Putting the wet stuff on the red stuff has been working since the bucket brigades, why all these ridiculous changes? Do you have any idea how much this could cost? Who has the time and enough knowledge to father these changes? See how easy it is to find loopholes in these standards and avoid compliance with sheer ignorance.
Stand by for NFPA 1710 gang. This upcoming standard will be covered in depth during this seminar. It will take a real masterful snake to wiggle out of the grasp of this one.
Micro Managing in the New Millennium
Learn how to delegate both critical and non-critical tasks while constantly standing over your people watching their every move. If all goes well, they will make a mistake and you will be right there, able to capitalize on their dark moment by pointing out how you should have never assigned them the task in the first place.
Learn how to constantly belittle them with needling phone calls, memos, e-mails and voice messages. This course will offer breakout group sessions in which everyone will have a chance to play the insecure boss that makes a firefighter feel like a complete idiot in front of his peers. This poor leadership skill is your best bet to driving a promising prospect into seeking a new line of work, while you keep any potential threats to your spineless position at bay.
It is a shame that too many chiefs feel that the only way to enhance their position comes by belittling their subordinates. Far too few amongst us understand that we succeed as leaders by the sweat of our good people.
As I read my buddies e-mail correspondence, I began to feel a bit nauseous. How bad must the working conditions be within his fire department? I am truly saddened by the continuing litany of poor leadership that bombards my e-mail mailbox. And this litany of wasted talent knows no geographical boundaries. It comes from all segments of the United States, as well as overseas.
I would love to win one of those big academic grants that allow you to take the time to conduct an in-depth study of a particular problem. I have a hunch that bad leadership is a plague that is attacking every aspect of American communities and commerce. I have a hunch that people who now serve, as our bad leaders were the kids that bullies picked on while they were growing up. Remember how they used to say, "… I’ll get you for that!" Maybe they are. And maybe they are paying one bully back in spades by screwing the rest of us.
Oh well, nobody gives big time grant money to a retired fire chief with a vendetta against bad leadership. I shall have to attack the problem in the old-fashioned way: one commentary at a time. To the younger generation; pay attention, you are the hope of our future.