The Journey: Leader's Listen

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch would ask people at meetings and speaking events "How'm I doing?" You can bet that a crowd of New Yorkers would not be shy in their responses. They would let him know exactly what they thought, even if it wasn't what...


It is from those individuals that I have developed the philosophy that, I won't say, "I told you so" but, I will say, "I did tell you." What does that mean? It means, I won't try to impress you with my brilliance or my ability to foretell the future. I am no E.F. Hutton. It does mean I know what will probably happen based on my experience. If you ask my opinion I will tell you but I will never rub your nose in it.

It is often said that the mark of a great leader is in their ability to surround themselves with great people. Marine General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognized this. In his speech to the cadets at The United States Military Academ in West Point in May of 2007 he commented, "When I found out I was going to be Chairman, the first thing that crossed my mind was who was going to be my Sergeant Major." He continued, "there was absolutely no way I wanted to do this without having a very special and talented senior enlisted person whispering in my ear and telling me when I was headed off on the wrong path." The general made these comments to illustrate the special bond between a second lieutenant and their platoon sergeants. In the fire service it may be between the company officer and his chauffer or the chief and his aide. Advice and council are necessary for effective leadership.

Every leader will have to make decisions. The real key to effective decision making is based on what you know and when you know it, but also, how well you understand the ramifications. This is where advisors earn their money.

How do you select those advisors? This is not one of those times when you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. For me the most important qualifications are loyalty and honesty. I want someone to be loyal to me and to the organization.

First is loyalty to me. I don't want what we discuss in the office to be bantered about the kitchen table or to be spread across town like a wildfire. If you respect them and they respect you, that won't be an issue. Second to be loyal to the organization. That doesn't mean you drink the "Kool Aid" or walk in lock step. It means we share the same goals for the organization. We want it to succeed. We also want to leave it better for our service. It also means, depending on how dysfunctional the organization, we are ready to make the tough decisions and stick by them.

Honesty is essential for an advisor. When I ask for your opinion I want to know what you think, not what you think I want to hear. We discussed "yes men" earlier.

Many times an advisor will need to be a subject matter expert. Use them when you need to but don't get bogged down in the details. Sometimes the best solution is the simplest. Always keep the goal in mind.

Effective leadership comes from effective communications. In this article we have discussed listening. We have just touched the surface of communications, with tone, body language and of course, the words themselves. I hope this has brought some insight and improved your ability to listen. People are not programmed to listen when they are talking. So if you shut up and listen, you may become a more effective leader.

As always questions and comments are welcome. Please email cflatley9711@ msn.com. Trust me, I will listen. Stay safe.

CHRISTOPHER FLATLEY, a Firehouse.com 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: cflatley9711@msn.com.