Rule 12: Manage Your Personal Behavior

Organizational discipline is a topic that most folks don't want to deal with as either a supervisor or subordinate. There is, however, a great deal of interest and thirst for information that will help the leaders within an agency to be consistent...


Organizational discipline is a topic that most folks don't want to deal with as either a supervisor or subordinate. There is, however, a great deal of interest and thirst for information that will help the leaders within an agency to be consistent, fair, transparent and honest when forced to...


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Organizational discipline is a topic that most folks don't want to deal with as either a supervisor or subordinate. There is, however, a great deal of interest and thirst for information that will help the leaders within an agency to be consistent, fair, transparent and honest when forced to activate the disciplinary process.

Whenever I discuss the privileges and pitfalls of taking on the mantel of leadership, the disciplinary process is always a topic of great interest and discussion. Most folks say they are very uncomfortable "sitting in judgment," as it were, of other members, but understand the organizational need to maintain discipline. The discussions usually go something like this: "Being a company (or battalion or division) commander is the best job I've ever had, except for the fact that I am expected to instill and manage the disciplinary process. I work hard to keep myself out of trouble and 'my nose clean,' but I have to investigate situations and deliver punishment when it is needed. A large part of my working day is spent on discipline issues instead of doing 'real work.' If it weren't for this aspect of my position, I could get at least another meaningful drill in each work week. I dislike that part of my job and wish someone else could handle it for me."

My only response to these brave men and women is "welcome to the club." Some of the work that leadership involves isn't as pleasant as the emergency response part.

Let me say loud and clear that the best discipline I know of is self-discipline. Members should have the opportunity to learn the rules and regulations of the department as part of their recruit training and orientation process. In fact, the important rules need to be reviewed on the first day on the job, in the first few hours of employment or membership. Many organizations have packaged the dozen or so critical rules that help to get you through the first year as members and require you to sign them, acknowledging their review and receipt. Once the rules are reviewed by the member, the agency hopes the member will follow those rules (a simple process, but we do somehow get disconnected from this desire from time to time). It seems to me that the best fire-rescue officers and members are the ones who can control and discipline themselves on the job and, just as importantly, at home.

Fire and EMS agencies must start with the best possible employee/member attainable. If you are in the intolerable position of hiring folks with sordid and questionable backgrounds, your agency will likely spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy delivering discipline and then on to court to defend your actions.

Let me give you the best advice I can: hire the best candidates with known and validated clean backgrounds. We are in a great position of having so many people interested in becoming firefighter/EMTs that you should consider hiring or recruiting only the very best that your community has to offer. Don't shortchange your selection and qualification process, but make it the most robust selection system you can. This is the period when you can avoid the headache of letting problem people enter your work force. If a person was fired from another job or dishonorably discharged from the military, it is likely that person will not work in your outfit.

The best quote I ever heard on this topic is from a nationally recognized lecturer, retired Captain Gordon Graham of the California Highway Patrol: "Past performance will predict future behavior." Pick the best and brightest candidates for public safety positions; never settle for questionable people. Your life will be a lot easier and your department a lot better for the effort.

It can be argued that a firefighter in this country has more authority than a police officer (cops hate hearing me say this). Relating to behavior, understand that we are never off duty. I know it may not seem appropriate, or even fair, that fire departments must have concerns about a member's off-duty behavior. But the truth is, some of our members get into a lot of trouble away from the firehouse.

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