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.

My first suggestion is that you begin to spend time getting to know each person on your team. This will require a series of informal meetings. You should set it up as a series of private sessions. Offer coffee, water, soda, or something similar in an attempt to put the other person at ease. Do not attempt to pry secrets out your people, but begin searching for answers as to who they are and what motivates them to be a member of the team.

Here are a few sample questions:

  1. Why did you choose to become a member of our organization?
  2. What do you like most about your duties?
  3. What disturbs you about your duties?
  4. What are your hobbies?
  5. What do you have to offer to us that we might not know about?
  6. Is there something in the manner in which our department operates that you might be able to change?
  7. Is there anything you would like to know about me?

These are but a few of the things you might wish to explore. Be aware that there will be those who will not want to respond. Take this as an indication that they are either reticent to say anything or worried that you are up to something sneaky. Do not be discouraged. It will take time to establish your credibility.

It has been my experience that there are three basic reactions which you can expect from people when you are attempting a change of any sort. There will be those who enthusiastically embrace your efforts, because they see them as positive. Another group will remain neutral until they can get a reading on your intent. When these people feel confident that you have no hidden agenda, they will begin to respond to you. This may take time and a number of positive actions on your part.

There will also be a third and far more challenging group. These are the people who may never come to trust you. These folks will always disagree with you and at best see you as someone who must be tolerated. This type of person is always going to be with us. It is here that the concept of patience comes into play.

Remember that patience is a virtue. I think the best description of how change occurs comes from the statement written by John Heywood back in the 1500's. "Rome was not built in one day." So it will be with your attempts at learning about your people. There are many classic examples of change-related problems within the history of the fire service.

I would urge you to think back to how long it took for the concept of incident command to emerge in our fire service. How about the battles we have fought in the name of firefighter safety? There was the battle to get people off of the back step. Then there was the battle to get our firefighters to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus on their back. For many of you, these are the battles of history. For me, these are vivid memories of what it was for me to grow up in our fire service.

These battles were won by dedicated people with another important attribute. They had the ability to persevere. They kept chipping away at the wall until they broke through. Think about the battle you and I are still fighting in our attempts to keep our people from dying in the line of duty. Think of the daily battles we fight in trying to get people to drive safely and wear their seatbelts.

Think of how many times we battle people who want to drink and drive our fire vehicles. On and on it goes. Each of us who seeks to lead others is constantly being challenged to find the right tool for the situations we face. Do not give up. If you choose to surrender, the forces of doom and ignorance will win. That is not a pretty thought. Persistence and patience will eventually win the day.

One critical test of a good master mechanic is to see how they respond to challenges. The patience needed by a master mechanic in trouble-shooting a mechanical solution is no different from the patience needed by an effective leader to mold their people into an effective team. There will be a time when each person who rides a fire vehicle will wear their belt.

It may be that you need to find the right person to attack the seat belt and drinking issues. Maybe you are not the one for the job. That right person will have the tools and the talent necessary to overcome all of the opposition to doing the right shown by your people. Let me urge you to begin your journey today.