The Journey: It's a Matter of Trust

This article continues our discussion on the journey to fire service leadership. As I said in the first article, it is the journey to leadership that builds our character. Our character is shaped along the way by all the twists and turns on the path of...

Going into a burning building is always risky, even for "food on the stove," but how much greater is the hazard when the building is fully involved? Or built of lightweight construction? It is a lot harder to get people to go into a hostile environment by telling them, "I'll be right behind you," than "follow me." They are looking to you to get the job done and bring them back home. When you demonstrate you have the skills people will begin to trust your judgment.

I grew up understanding that "everyone came from somewhere." Now that sounds like Yogi Berea, but its not. What it means is, everyone doesn't have the same experience. Everyone came down a different road of life to get to where they are now. As a leader you must deal with the experience that you have and move on. If you have gaps in your education it is too late now. You must go with what you got. This may mean putting "it" on the line sometimes. That is OK; everyone is not good at everything.

Let your people assess your strengths and weaknesses. Your strengths will let you speak with authority because you have "been there, done that." Your weakness will allow you to be humble. You must be honest with your people. If you lack experience in a particular area, own up to it. Human beings are a very perceptive species. They can tell when someone is faking it. The more technical the skill the harder it is to fake anyway. It is better to let them know than let them down! This is one time when you must check your ego at the door.

Trust develops both ways. As their leader you should not count on subordinates for every aspect of your job performance but it does allow you to recognize their skill in a particular aspect. Firefighters are one group of people that want to be respected for their skills. If a leader has respect for their skill then he or she will have confidence in their ability. Conversely, if the members don't think their boss can recognize their talent how will they view his/her judgment?

Trust cannot develop without a positive perception of judgment.

As your personality and leadership style become "known" to your members they will be drawn to you. People will always be drawn to a "known commodity" rather than the "unknown." Even with flaws, people would rather know who they are dealing with.

Trust is built by being concerned, competent and caring. Trust is precious. What takes years to build, could be destroyed in seconds. Trust should never be taken for granted. A wise chief once told me, "take care of your men and they will take care of you."

As always, stay safe.

Questions and comments are welcomed, send them to

Look for the next article, "The Journey: Know How to Say Thank You."

CHRISTOPHER FLATLEY, a Contributing Editor, is a 20-year veteran of the FDNY and a lieutenant currently assigned to Ladder Company 21 in Manhattan. Chris has twice served as chief of the Blauvelt, NY, Volunteer Fire Company and is currently the assistant chief and training coordinator. He is a nationally certified Fire Instructor 1 and is an instructor at the Rockland County, NY, Fire Training Center and holds a degree in fire protection technology. He is a Master Exercise Practitioner on the Exercise Design Team through the Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness. You can reach Chris by e-mail at: