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 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 have numerous odd thoughts; and many of these thought and ideas have arrived in my brain at really screwy times. Perhaps this week's topic has a shot at setting a new record for off-the-wall.

My wife and I were sitting in our living room watching the Today Show on NBC. The topic of discussion was post-partum depression. It brings sadness to an event that should be cause for great joy. This illness is turning out to be a growing problem across the country.

Katie Curic was interviewing Brooke Shield and a medical researcher about this problem. At one point the researcher mentioned that many medical practitioners do no have all of the necessary tools to recognize and treat this growing medical problem.

It was at this point that my mind went rocketing back to a sermon that Reverend Scott Brown preached a few weeks back. So how, you might ask, can I possibly be able to tie Katie Curic and Scott Brown together in the same paragraph? My answer is simple and direct. I don't know. It just came to me as I was downing my third cup of coffee for the morning.

Back on April 24, Scott delivered a sermon which spoke to the need for each of us to understand that there is normally a right tool for each task that must be accomplished in life. Here is the tie in my friends. It is all about tools.

While the researcher on television was speaking to the need for acquiring the right skills (knowledge and techniques) to properly treat a patient, Scott was alluding to the fact that some people are better at doing certain things than others. It is my belief that he was suggesting leaders must come to know their people so well that they are able to select the right tool for the task at hand, much like a Master Mechanic.

A good buddy of mine from Freehold, New Jersey 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 then does this mechanical analogy apply to our fire service world? Perhaps the classic way to describe this involves the concept of round pegs and square pegs. How many times have you heard the phrase that speaks of placing a round peg into a square hole? The number has to be in the hundreds, if not thousands. 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 individuals that make up their team.
  2. Transactional leaders must know and understand the needs of their organization.
  3. Transactional leaders must know and understand the needs of their people.

Leaders should 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. More than that, the leader must learn how to place the round-peg person into the round hole. Each person must be considered as a tool in the toolbox of the fire service organization, to be used at the right time.

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 distinctive being. Each of us has grown to adulthood within a truly unique set of experiences. While you may be able to group your people into general categories, I would not recommend this as a way of leading your team.

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