Just the other day I wrote an in-depth article for Firehouse magazine. The topic of this article involved a common-sense presentation of the findings of my doctoral dissertation. I felt that the academic version should be translated into the language of the average firefighting citizen. Academic papers can be really boring. As a matter of fact, I think boring is a mandatory part of the academic world.
My dissertation was entitled, "Member Retention in the Volunteer Fire Service: An Analysis of the Impact of Leadership." The basic premise of my article was whether the quality of leadership had any influence on whether people stayed in or left their volunteer fire organizations. The findings of my study were such that bad leaders appear to be driving good members away from our volunteer fire departments, along with a host of other problems.
As is my way, draft copies of this article were circulated to a number of respected friends for their comments and corrections. I like to see whether my thoughts are close to the mark or way out in left field, as both have been known to happen. The comments from my buddies indicated that my words were pretty much on target. That is to say they too agree that there are people who might never have left the volunteer or paid-on-call firefighting world had they had been exposed to a better quality of leadership.
One of the comments which came from a buddy in Massachusetts during a recent phone call told me that there are those out there in the world who have been personally exposed to the effects of negative leadership. My friend asked me if it was possible that the bad leaders of the world were unaware of the fact that they were not good. He also asked me if it was possible to have 21 firefighters on one page and the chief on another.
My answer to him was short and sweet indeed. That was a yes to both queries. I said that these are two of the most frequent of all organizational problems. Those who are most in need of personal change are usually the ones who go through life blissfully unaware of the havoc they leave strewn about in their wake as they move from disastrous interaction to asinine comment, and on to stupid statement. It was this telephone conversation which led to the selection of the title for this week's visit with you.
One of the major problems that every organization faces from time to time is the issue of focus. Sometimes you find yourself asking whether everyone in you department is doing the same things as you. I have witnessed situations in certain fire departments where it almost seems like there are four teams of horse pulling in four separate directions.
In ancient times this sort of four-way harness was used to kill people in a most painful, horrible manner. In ancient times this pulling in four directions was the quartering part of the punishment known as drawing and quartering. It was extremely painful to the person being punished, and a most horrible way to die. So too is it painful to watch an organization tear itself apart.
One of the best examples of the need to be on the same page comes from the world of music. In order for a musical number to sound its best, all of the players must be playing the correct note at the right moment. I have been at rehearsals where the band director accidentally gave different arrangements of the same piece created by different musical arrangers, to the band.
This error was discovered in short order, as there was a sudden burst of discordant notes and odd sounds. The cacophony which resulted was not pleasing to the ear, soul, or psyche of anyone present. The melody was similar, but the supporting notes were all screwed up.
This happened to me the other day in church, where I am a member of the Alleluia Jazz at the Colts Neck Reformed Church. We were to play a really neat musical piece for the congregation during our service. During the pre-service rehearsal, something did not seem right.