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How many people have you met in your life who seem to drift from point A to point Z without any real purpose in their lives? Many times during my career in the fire service, I have encountered people who seemed to be moving in 20 directions at once. One moment it was a deep abiding concern for inspections, the next it was fire prevention, and then in the next instant, it was a concern for public education. Suddenly, there was a fire and they became the expert in that arena. Come on folks, you can't have it all and you can't do it all.
It has been my experience that everyone must decide what they are good at and concentrate on their strong points. Recently, a dear friend reminded me of this important fact of life. He was kind enough to bring a potentially serious error to my attention. It seems that I was so involved in a wide range of projects that I seemingly drifted into a wrong direction. Where I should have been operating in one arena, I suddenly found myself miles off course.
There was a time when people who knew me would accuse me of being a "jack of all trades" and a master of none. My wife once accused me of having a Superman complex. She pointed out that I was trying to be all things to all people. I was very poor at using the word "no" in my relationships with the various groups in which I hold membership.
I was traveling back and forth to work with the Newark Fire Department. At the same time, I was an active member and chief officer in the Adelphia Fire Company. My consulting practice consumed great quantities of my time. There were the trips to the major fire conventions and the speaking engagements I made around the country, not to forget my service as the state fire marshal for the New Jersey Army National Guard.
How did I ever do this? How was all of this possible, when added to the requirements of being a husband and father? I guess the best answer involves the honest evaluation that only the passage of time has allowed me to undertake. I ran my life like a small, independent building contractor. You know the type. They start a job, and then move on to another, then double back and work a bit on the first job and then start a third.
I now know that I was wrong. I guess that is what you call experience. The thought that I was operating in this manner never occurred to me. As a matter of fact, I can even remember agreeing with a friend at one point back then, when he complained of how hard it was to get a contractor to finish painting his back porch. I was living the same sort of life-and-career combination, and did not even recognize what I was doing.
One of the critical elements in success of any kind involves a concept known as focus. Maybe you have heard focus referred to as, "keeping one's eyes on the prize." Sadly, far too many people fail to understand that there are only so many things that a person can do at one time. I know that I was a victim of that approach to life.
Think about people in history who have achieved a great triumph. Did they split their efforts or did they concentrate on the overall goal? It is this ability to focus that lets a leader structure a wide variety of tasks to reach a single goal.
During World War II, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur commanded hundreds of thousands of troops. He was responsible for overall control of the many, varied operations in the Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations. The concept of command and control required that he delegate great quantities of work to subordinate officers. To do this, he created and maintained a loyal personal staff to assist him. In spite of all this, I believe that he worked in a very focused manner.
All of this having been said, what was that focus which drove MacArthur onward to victory? I believe that it can be identified easily. I suggest that it was his statement upon arriving in Australia in 1942 that set the tone for what he hoped to accomplish. He had been ordered by President Roosevelt to leave his troops in the Philippine Islands and break through to Australia. This he did reluctantly.