The Leader As a Master Mechanic

It is amazing how many times a thought can come to you in an unlikely place or at an unlikely time. It is also interesting how many of these thoughts can lay dormant within you for weeks and then suddenly burst forth. Many of you who know me could rightly...


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It is amazing how many times a thought can come to you in an unlikely place or at an unlikely time. It is also interesting how many of these thoughts can lay dormant within you for weeks and then suddenly burst forth. Many of you who know me could rightly accuse me of having numerous odd thoughts; and many of these thoughts have arrived in my brain at really screwy times. It may well be that this month’s topic has a shot at setting a new record for “off-the-wall.â€

I was watching a researcher on TV speak to the need for physicians to acquire the right skills (knowledge and techniques) to properly treat their patients. All of a sudden a thought hit me. While the researcher was alluding to the fact that certain physicians did not have the training and tools to do their job, a thought came roaring into my mind: It is not that way just with doctors.

Yes, certain physicians lack the tools and understanding to do their jobs; however, the same is true with mechanics, leaders, fire officers and a whole array of people. It is about using tools and talents to get a job done. When you serve as a leader, your people are your tools. You have to understand that some people are better at certain things than others. I am suggesting that leaders must know their people so well that they are able to select the right tool for the task at hand.

A good buddy of mine from Freehold, NJ is, I believe, a master mechanic from the old school. Leo Haley kept the Carter Family Fleet running for more than 30 years. No matter what challenge my wife, children and I threw at him, he always seemed to have the right tool in his toolbox to take care of our troubles.

How does this mechanical analogy apply to the fire service? Perhaps the classic way to describe this involves the concept of round pegs and square holes. How many times have you heard the phrase that speaks of placing a round peg into a square hole? It is a classic description of the need to fit people to those tasks for which they are suited.

This is a topic often discussed in the literature of the leadership field. A description of the transactional style of leadership would suggest the importance of leaders coming to know the skills, talents and needs of their people. The following speak to that need:

1. Leaders must assess the relative worth of the people who make up their team.
2. Transactional leaders must understand the needs of the organization.
3. Transactional leaders must know and understand the needs of their people.

I am suggesting that leaders must possess the skills to create an environment wherein there is a high degree of correlation between the needs of the organization and the needs of the organizational members. Each person must be considered a tool in the toolbox of the fire service organization.

This also suggests that the leader must develop an awareness of the capabilities of each person for whom they are responsible. I have long taught that each of us is a unique being. While you may be able to group people into general categories, I would not recommend this as a way of leading your team.

The master mechanic has many different sizes of wrenches in their toolbox. Would a master mechanic use a standard American wrench on a metric nut? I think not. Would the master mechanic use a ball peen hammer when a rubber mallet was called for? I hope not. So it must be with the leader’s use of team members. Think about the members of your team (department). Are there those who are quiet and reserved? Are there those who are outgoing and gregarious? I would imagine you have some of each in your organizational toolbox. Here is where the master mechanic analogy comes into play.

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