A Question of Character

The greatest leader forgets himselfAnd attends to the development of others. Good leaders support excellent workers. Great leaders support the bottom ten percent. Great leaders know that The diamond in the rough Is always found "in the rough...

The greatest leader forgets himself

And attends to the development of others.

Good leaders support excellent workers.

Great leaders support the bottom ten percent.

Great leaders know that

The diamond in the rough

Is always found "in the rough."  

--Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching 600 BC

True effectiveness of any aspect of marketing lies in the quality of the results for the customer. True quality will almost always be reflected in the essential truth of the mission, vision and values of an organization. The underlying premise is that an organization that is closely aligned with its mission, vision and values will perform outstandingly. This is important in marketing public services because the care of every citizen is at stake, not just a few segmented markets.

The concern is even more critical in the delivery of emergency services. What this means for a fire department is not only going well beyond excellent service in handling immediate incidents (i.e., fire suppression and EMS), but creating a safe haven for the community that speaks to concern for each citizen.

But there is a much bigger issue at stake in the fire service. It is the firefighters and how they see themselves. Firefighters embark on a mission to put themselves between harm and the citizen at a moment's notice. The firefighter is the quintessential model of a human tool that must be in the best physical, mental and emotional shape to achieve the mission of protecting the community. There is an added dimension: the firefighter's cause -- who he or she is -- seen through the eyes of the community and, especially, in his or her own eyes, as performing a noble mission. The pressure this can exert on an individual firefighter is enormous. It is one of creating and raising very high expectations - those of the department, of one's own shift and of one's best buddy, not to mention those of one's family. Attention to the individual firefighter is one of the keys to ensuring a safe community.

If the goal of exceptional standards of excellence begins with the individual firefighter, how do we as leaders begin a process to bring this care to reality? It begins with our firefighters' character and their hearts. It begins with the nature of relationships - with oneself, with the department's teams and, then, with the community.

Some months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Joanne Turner, a mental health professional who said she had begun working with Osceola County, FL, Fire Rescue on the creation of a program dedicated to servant leadership. The newly appointed fire chief, Richard Collins, had asked her to consider taking on this project so that he could knit together a much more effective department for his firefighters and for the community. After I met both of them, I came to believe that this program could make a major contribution to the overall mission of not only Osceola Fire and Rescue, but to other departments.

What does this have to do with marketing the mission of the fire service? Everything.

Robert Greenleaf is recognized as the father of servant leadership. In his seminal work, Servant Leadership, published in 1977, he described servant leadership in this manner: "It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead...The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant...first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons, do they grow while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?"

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