Many years ago when the original Gangs of New York held court in the Bowery, the tough, no-nonsense volunteer firefighters of Tammany Hall fought the red devil and prevailed. One of the homespun heroes of the time was known as 'Fire Fight'n Mose."
Born in a firefighter's helmet, he pulled the engines single-handedly as he leaped to second story buildings to save citizens from the flames using a long pole that soon became the standard sliding pole in the fire stations of New York. He was bigger than life and commanded respect through his deeds of daring. He was a leader.
The story of Mose is an example of leadership through story telling: one of the oldest and most effective methods of marketing in the world. The human species is "hard-wired" to understand the world through stories. And, of course, Walt Disney was one of the greatest story tellers of all time. As many of you know, in 2005 Liberty Mutual Insurance and the Disney Imagineers at Epcot created an interactive fire education experience called to educate our thousands of guests about safe behaviors should they be caught in a fire.
Just a couple of years ago, we heard a story from one of our cast members who noted that four families had come to Epcot just to see the fire education experience because a young girl in one of the families had saved herself and four other girls at a neighbor's sleepover, largely because of the lessons learned at "Where's the Fire?. You can imagine the response of our cast members. They were pumped and highly motivated to continue the great job they already perform.
Leadership is Communications and Relationships
The academic guru of leadership, Warren Bennis, noted some years ago that there are too few leaders in the world today and none on the horizon. It is true that we know our leaders through their actions, but leaders have the responsibility to lead their organizations by gaining consensus and passion to achieve their department's mission. If you do not have a relationship with your firefighters and officers as well as your citizens, you already have one hand tied behind your back.
It's always about the relationship. The average American citizen continues to receive approximately 4,000 messages annually in some advertising format according to the American Advertising Association. Now, add to this the multiple distractions we seem to endure daily and you begin to see the difficulty in getting our message across. The fire service is a natural repository of leadership because of the dynamic and critical nature of the mission. If one couples the positive position we occupy in our citizens' minds with our usually high visibility, one can see the opportunities for spreading our mission to lower the fire rate in our communities.
We must be able to communicate effectively in large and small groups to get the message across effectively. This means telling a story well to our citizens for their own safety and to our firefighters to hone their skills. You may not be able to achieve the goal of moving citizens to safer behaviors every time, but you do have the opportunity to stimulate thought and conversation about fire safety. This can help inspire them to the higher purpose of responsibility and saving their own lives. There are three key elements that comprise this skill and they are just as critical to marketing communication as they are to leadership: gaining trust, creating a vision and inspiring action.
Who are You and How Much do You Care?
One of the most important skills in gaining trust is developing a platform for empathy and like-mindedness. This means connecting with the group you are addressing so that each member knows that you are an expert in the subject matter and its applications. But there is another factor: your ability to communicate to the group the empathy you hold for each of them.