The Journey: Motivation

It's often easier just to complete tasks yourself, but that is not what you, as an officer, should do.

It's often easier just to complete tasks yourself, but that is not what you, as an officer, should do.

One of the most important tasks that you have to master as a new officer or chief officer is to get someone to do something. It's often easier just to do it yourself, but that is not what you do. You are the leader and you are not asking them to do it because it is easy, or not. You are asking because that is their job. That doesn't mean you make them your hand servants. As an officer you are to supervise and delegate. If a ceiling needs to be pulled, who is looking out for the safety of the members if the boss is using the hook?

The best way to get someone to do something is to make him or her want to do it! I call this the Huckleberry Finn approach. Make them want to paint the fence. Motivation is the ability to incite, urge or compel. This can be difficult.

People want to know what is in it for them. If you can't make it meaningful to them they will tell you to "go paint your own damn fence." Different people will respond to different motivating factors and we will discuss some of these in this article.

Rewards can be used as a motivator. Don't get caught in the trap, rewards should never become a bribe. The cost of the bribe will rise faster than the national debt! The level of reward must match the level of request. Rewards can be as simple as recognition at a meeting or drill.

Intimidation is not motivation. Intimidation is the fear of reprisal. If your people are still working for you they're not motivated, they're scared. As a rule, intimidation doesn't work very well. You will turn friends into enemies and you will become the evil tyrant.

This does not mean that you can't use a little tough love. A very successful chief once told me that sometimes you need to make someone more afraid to come back and tell you they couldn't do something than for them to overcome their own fear and complete the task. Accepting the challenge and working through it is part of the growth process to effective leadership.

Direct Order
A direct order is always an effective motivator. It will get the job done. Most folks in the fire service can't refuse a direct order. In most places there is a grievance process that you can work out later if the order was improper. When the time comes to give a direct order, give it. A word of caution: as an officer, if you need to give a direct order, make sure you have the authority to give it and most of the time you will. Then don't back down from it. This would serve to undermine your authority.

The last group of people you will want to deal with are the people that don't need to be given orders. The over eager types, the ones that do everything you tell them, even the stuff they don't have any time for. This group works the hardest and is often the most abused. When asked to do something this guy will add it to his already full plate and not complain.

As an officer you are going to want these guys. Let me give a word of advice. If you ask these people to do something, they will do what you ask. The product may be something less desirable than you want and probably less than what they want to put their name to. The result is a stressed out member who is willing to please but does not get gratification from his work because it is not his/her best work. You will run the risk of burning them out or losing them from the organization completely.

Find Their Motivation
Finding out what will motivate people is as individual as they are. Some you will be able to motivate with espri' de corps, the spirit of the corp. You can use their feelings toward the other members -- you won't let down the team. They are counting on you to get this task done.

Team building is a key to fire service operations, but this also makes it difficult for new members to become part of the team. New members should use their strengths to increase the value of the team. As their contribution is realized, they will become a valued member of the team.

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