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The opposite is equally true. As a leader, you can never be perceived as the sort of person who lets the rug to be pulled from under your people. In some cases, you may even have to act as a shield between your troops and the powers that be. While that may seem to fly in the face of what a supervisor should do for the organization, I suggest that unless people are happy in their jobs, performance will suffer. Good leaders know this and they limit the amount of trouble that flows downhill toward their people. This can be hard on the leaders, but the results can be worthwhile.
There is another attribute to which you can aspire, but that cannot be taught to you. That attribute is courage. You can study famous heroes in history until the last day of your life, but not understand what it is to take a courageous action. Let me remind you that the need for courage is not limited to the fireground, although that is the most public venue for this important attribute.
Public heroism can be rewarding, and it is extremely important in the history of an organization. However, it is the day-in, day-out type of quiet heroism that can be the most satisfying. Fighting for a cause you believe in can be most satisfying. Fighting for this same cause in the face of organizational obstructions and discouragement can be quite a different matter.
Faith, pride, tact and good judgment are attributes that you must develop yourself. Each of us must come to believe in something other than ourselves. Once you have come to a personal knowledge of what you believe, live that belief and be consistent in your application of its tenets.
Pride is also a difficult phenomenon to engender. Pride can be a force for good as well as for evil. Remember the words of the Bible: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Very simply, pride can get in the way of good sense.
On the other hand, pride in something that is good and worthwhile can also create a level of loyalty beyond belief. This is the good pride, the strong pride that makes failure in front of your peers an unacceptable option. A properly generated aura of unit pride lies at the center of some of our greatest organizations.
Trust, character, knowledge and the others are just the starting point. A critical element within your moral compass will come from the degree to which you demonstrate persistence in pursuit of your organization’s vision, mission, goals and objectives. Think about the advice regarding perseverance that you have heard since you were a small child. Thomas Palmer stated it best in 1840 when he wrote, “ ’Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try again, if at first you don’t succeed try, try again.” There is a great deal to be said for people who can keep their eyes on the prize. It takes a great deal of perseverance to push on toward that prize in the face of the many obstacles placed in their path by the organization, friends, family and coworkers.
I have met some really smart people who never did fully use their intelligence and education. They simply thought people should be impressed by the strength of their credentials, recognize their innate brilliance and bow to their wisdom. It does not work that way, gang. You have to earn your way in this world, and I want to assure you that it is rare to experience success during your first attempt. You must set your personal goals and commit your life to achieving them.
Aim high, because there is always going to be a bit of a falloff as you move down life’s road. But keep trying, my friends. Please keep trying.
Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., MIFireE, is a Firehouse® contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is a former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). Dr. Carter is an associate professor at Mercer County Community College and a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. A fire commissioner for Howell Township District 2, he retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. He also served as chief of training and commander of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. Dr. Carter is a Member of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain (MIFireE). You can contact him through his website at Dr.Carter@HarryCarter.com.