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 chief told me that "once we understand that, as managers, we have a direct impact on the workplace environment, how do we raise the game for our employees? The answer revolves around the development of some simple habits within the organization. They include patience, kindness, humility, respectfulness, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty, accountability, and commitment. In essence managers treat people the way they would like to be treated. In this type of environment, employees will begin to feel valued and work towards the goals of the organization and that is the essence of leadership."

Roadmap To Success

I asked Joanne to provide an understanding of her approach and how she collaborated with the chief. Joanne said she had to begin "from scratch." She needed to understand the culture of the fire service in general and that of Osceola County Fire Rescue in particular. This meant digging deeply into the organization, one firefighter at a time:

"I began with a lot of research at first. Realizing that in the 17 years I have been a business owner myself, I am a servant leader by nature and actions. The more I learned about servant leadership, I was realizing more about what I personally held to be true and valuable for my own life. As this began to take root in me, it became more than just a workshop. This message became an opportunity to share and teach an approach to life and work that could enhance so many lives as it improved their relationships. In addition to the research with books, I spent time in the stations - probably two weeks' worth of hanging out, talking with the firefighters, going on ride-alongs, building rapport and hearing from them. This really helped me."

Joanne noted that some of the tools she used in the workshop were: The Awareness Wheel, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and The Servant Leadership Building Blocks. She also used research and tools from the mental health field that are modified and applied to the fire service career. Changing belief systems that were so rooted in the past to looking to something new, different and constantly changing is a significant challenge.

"Firefighters embrace tradition, which is a wonderful part of who they are (she continued). But being willing,,,to challenge the ones that are not suited for these days and times in the workplace was probably the greatest obstacle. This really had to be done in a way that was gentle enough that they would even be willing to look at the belief and possibly challenge it, but strong enough to move us through to the other side.

"In addition, the next obstacle was how to keep the progression going so the evolution of this new belief system could take place. The program is not presented in just one full-day workshop where the chance for real change for most of the participants would be slim. We offered the program in a three-part series monthly, concluding with an ongoing mentoring program, in which all of leadership participates. Some of the key skills we are attempting to build are awareness about self and taking responsibility for actions, being more action oriented and not reactionary, communicating in a way that is more respectful so a person feels heard and cared about, communicating needs more effectively, bonding through relationship and respect instead of bullying at someone's expense.

"At the end of each of the workshops participants completed an evaluation, all of which was read and used to improve areas mentioned. To add importance to the workshop and send the message of that importance, the Chief made the workshop mandatory, they came in on a scheduled day off, and he paid them for the day."

Milestones Of Success

Rich told me that he and Joanne meet with leadership, individually, quarterly. "Holding them to the standards of behavior with the servant leadership model we have presented, they will have to report their progress in changing behaviors to line up with the model and its characteristics. There will be measures in place to determine the level of success. In addition, they will report the ways their team is improving, or the areas they are working on. Success will be evident, just like it is evident when the servant leadership characteristics are not in place.