The Fire Station Pyramid of Success - Part 2

Mark Emery continues a series on fire station success based on Coach John Wooden's Pyramid of Success.When the time comes to clear out the locker, wouldn't you like to know that you left your fire station and your fire department a better place than...


Mark Emery continues a series on fire station success based on Coach John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. When the time comes to clear out the locker, wouldn't you like to know that you left your fire station and your fire department a better place than before you got there? Would you like to be...


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If you and your firefighters are to continually grow and improve, no target is more important than enthusiasm for learning. Career-long learning can be summed up as follows (adapted from Wooden): It's what you learn after you know it all that's important.

As a leader, you must be willing to work hard, to be industrious. You must balance hard work with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm and industriousness are the cornerstones of your Fire Station Pyramid of Success. Each cornerstone is powerful; together they enable your crew to become a positive, proactive influence. Fire station success will come when every member of your crew takes ownership of your vision and accepts responsibility for his or her part in achieving your vision. (Hint: Your crew needs to know what your vision is.)

Between the Cornerstones

Between the cornerstones your foundation will be comprised of three blocks: Friendship, Loyalty and Cooperation. Together friendship, loyalty and cooperation will strengthen your cornerstones of industriousness and enthusiasm.

Friendship. For fire station success, both personally and for your crew, there must be some level of friendship. Friendship is a powerful influence when it emerges from mutual respect, esteem and devotion. Only through consolidated effort can you, your crew and each firefighter begin the journey to discover true potential. Friendliness greases the skids of industriousness and enthusiasm.

Friendship in the fire station doesn't mean that you have to go fishing together or be the godfather for each other's kids. In the context of Wooden's Pyramid of Success, friendship means mutual respect and simply getting along. Wooden positioned friendship beside industriousness because it is something you must work at diligently. In your fire station, the first step toward getting along is to neutralize the "blame game." Like a parasite, bitching and blaming latches on from the inside and eats away at the pyramid's foundation. When you blame others and are intolerant of other's backgrounds, foibles or differences and you give up your responsibility as a leader, the foundation crumbles.

Ridicule and blame (and close relative bitching) will cripple your leadership because it directs your focus to things that you can't control or change. Even if justified, ridicule and blame serve no useful purpose. The aim of the "blame game" is to protect (or inflate) egos, not to build a proactive, winning team. Finally, never lose sight of your own fallibility — you (and me) are not above making mistakes (I've made some doozies). Those who have been ridiculed and blamed will relish their opportunity for payback — with interest. A palpable attitude of sincere friendship — mutual esteem, respect and devotion — was one of Wooden's secrets for creating his high-performance teams.

Loyalty. Loyalty is the cohesive energy that will take individuals and transform them into a team. For this reason, Wooden positioned loyalty at the center of the pyramid's foundation. Loyalty serves as the foundation's keystone. True leadership is not quid pro quo (this for that); true leaders are not motivated by what they may receive in return for their good (or bad) deeds. You cannot "buy" friendship and loyalty. Ponder this: How can you ever perform to the best of your ability unless you are loyal to someone or something other than yourself?

Leadership loyalty does not mean that firefighters are obligated to respect you. (They may be required to respect your rank, but that doesn't mean they respect you.) Leadership loyalty means that you respect yourself and respect those you lead. Leadership loyalty means that you respect your firefighters, that you respect your administration, that you respect your fire department, and that you respect the opportunity and the privilege to contribute to the fire service community. Properly focused respect will nurture team loyalty. Self-respect is built on loyalty to yourself; being loyal means being true to your word and refusing to compromise your values and beliefs in order to advance or maneuver politically in your own self-interest. Being loyal to your "higher, noble self" will enable you to become a doer rather than a "stewer and brewer."