Mark Emery continues this series with part four discussing the heart of the pyramid: condition, skill and team spirit. Part 4 -- Heart of the Pyramid: Condition, Skill and Team Spirit Coach Wooden's All-Time Best Starting Five Industriousness Enthusiasm Condition Fundamentals...
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Test the Pyramid Levels One and Two fundamental culture of your fire station: Place a crumpled soda cup in the parking lot. At shift change or on drill night, observe the behavior of your firefighters. If nobody sees and removes the cup, you've got a fundamental culture problem. Firefighters are leaving it for somebody else or, worse, they don't care. Day-to-day conduct will soon become culture. How often is a chainsaw dirty or apparatus low on fuel at shift change? What's the relationship with other crews and other fire stations: high school or professional?
The soda cup in the parking lot represents a lack of fundamental Level One and Level Two Pyramid behavior discussed in parts two and three of this series: industriousness, alertness and initiative. When the fire station cancer of "leave it for somebody else" and "I don't care" metastasizes to the fireground and when interacting with the public, you have a culture that requires major leadership surgery.
Coach Wooden considered himself a practice coach more than a game coach. Many fire stations foster game cultures rather than practice cultures. In other words, the fire station is unenthusiastic, lethargic and inattentive until the pagers fire and it's show time.
Despite all the success and stardom at UCLA, Coach Wooden made sure that his players cleaned up after themselves. Even in a visiting locker room, they were industrious, alert and showed initiative. No player left a mess around his locker. No tape, towels or trash was left on the floor for somebody else to pick up. The custodian and trainers were part of the team and were treated with dignity and respect. The custodian was responsible for emptying the trash cans, not filling them; picking up after young adults was not the custodian's responsibility. Coach Wooden: "Somebody's going to have to clean up the mess, and I see no reason why it shouldn't be the person who made the mess."
Dignity and respect were palpable on Wooden's teams. Being part of the UCLA team was a privilege and the "team" was more than individual players. Coach Wooden tells a story of an elite high school athlete that he visited personally. (Wooden rarely made recruiting visits himself, so this young man must have been a remarkable athlete.) While chatting with the young man and his family, his mother entered the conversation. The athlete interrupted and snapped, "Quiet, Mom, he's not here to recruit you." Coach Wooden rose, thanked the woman for allowing him to visit their home, and announced that there is no doubt that her son will be an incredible college athlete -- but not for UCLA. Wooden did not want that player's attitude of disrespect to compromise the culture of dignity and respect he fostered at UCLA. Wooden would not compromise his Pyramid principles to win basketball games. (Although the young man didn't play college basketball at UCLA, years later he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.)
One of the most reliable indicators of fire station culture is to examine the hosebed and compartments on a fire engine. Is hose loaded with meticulous care and attention to detail (professional) or is the hose untidy and sloppy (amateur)? Are compartment contents clean, organized, secured and in reliable working condition? These are perhaps the most basic and fundamental skills in the fire station. Is the daily apparatus checklist quickly checked from the driver seat or does the driver ensure that each item is meticulously inspected and tested? Without leadership, over time, the corners of fire station culture become rounded; it requires team leadership and personal leadership to keep the corners square. Positive, Pyramid-based leadership is hard to sustain; Pyramid-based leadership requires hard work.
Are your firefighters willing to do housekeeping or are they enthusiastic to keep their house in top shape and be the best that they are capable? Industriousness and enthusiasm in tandem with self-control, alertness and initiative help ensure that the fundamentals getting done -- and continue to get done. Industriousness, enthusiasm, alertness and initiative turn the routine and mundane into an uninterrupted stream of opportunities to make yourself and your fire station better. Skill encompasses all components and responsibilities of fire station duties, not just the exciting and entertaining stuff. Skill requires the ability, desire and knowledge to quickly and properly execute all of the basic fundamental skills of a professional.