The qualities of effective organizational leadership are always difficult to pin down. This is no different for a small business, a global enterprise, or, in our case, a fire department and the many non-profit organizations that represent the fire service. In the final analysis the ability of the fire service to change and adapt to its circumstances while balancing its own culture will determine its destiny and its effectiveness.
The difference between the fire service and others is that its effectiveness directly affects the safety of our citizens and their property in cities and towns across the nation. One of the first rules of marketing management is that its effectiveness is based on an outside-in view of the world and not inside-out. If we truly want to understand what we should be doing to be more effective for the communities we protect, then we need to understand their changing safety needs instead of assuming that we know all of them already.
Most organizations do see the world through their own eyes and it's not surprising. This is just human nature. This assumption is based on a myopic view that the world revolves around their organizations needs and goals.
In my experience, I have found this to be especially true in the fire service. This is not surprising. It is a competitive occupation and it is difficult to become a firefighter. Most people in the fire service have been in it for many years because they love it so much. It is still unusual to find someone in a leadership position in a fire department or a fire service organization who has come in through private enterprise or some other profession instead of through the ranks.
So it is especially difficult to see things in a totally different way when one has been inside the fire service culture for many years, surrounded by many with the same view. Fortunately, most firefighters and officers are inquisitive and intelligent, always seeking ways to improve and learn from their experiences. Many seek advanced degrees beyond the Executive Fire Officer program of the National Fire Academy. This is all to the good of the fire service, but still, largely, "within the fire service."
Become a Learning Organization
It takes some practice to see the world in other ways, learning from the experiences of others and, most important, from the market itself. Even a tiny amount of research into the needs of the market can yield significant results for organizational effectiveness. It is true that any fire service organization or fire department must have clear priorities and objectives to accomplish their basic mission.
However, we are all in service to our customers and our members. There is a delicate balance between what we need to achieve to achieve for the organization's sustainability and our customers' growing safety needs. Critically important are the changing needs of the members of the organization because those members will directly impact how effective we are with our citizens.
Henry Ford once said that if he had asked his customers what they needed, they would have said, "a faster horse." While we can't expect our customers to understand all of the complexities of fire protection, we can respect their intelligence and the desire to remain safe. Knowledgeable citizens will always be our most supportive customers. It's the best job security in the world and it's based on sound economic principles. This is true for two reasons: First, they will have an understanding of safe behaviors before and during an emergency. This means education for prevention. Second, they will have a better understanding of how the fire service protects them during and after the emergency. This is education for financial and political support. The more they know about what they should do and what we do, the greater the chances they will support us so that we can remain firefighters.
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