Good Leaders Build Bridges, Not Fort

Let us pause a moment to look back into history. Many times, we in the North American fire service fail to review the lessons that history abound throughout recorded history. Sometimes, I think that it is a biological instinct within humans that governs...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

Let us pause a moment to look back into history. Many times, we in the North American fire service fail to review the lessons that history abound throughout recorded history. Sometimes, I think that it is a biological instinct within humans that governs our need to think that the most recent generation is always the first and only one to see the facts of life as they really are.

Why else would we keep making the same stupid mistakes, generation after generation? Why else would we still be putting human beings on the roofs of truss structures? Why else would we be sending firefighters into abandoned buildings? What other reason is there for having over 1,200 fire companies and departments in a small state like New Jersey?

A number of arguments, and sub-arguments are located within those simple questions. Queries like that might keep us all busy yelling at each other for months, if not years. Anyway, let us now move along. It's time to get on with my history lesson.

In ancient times, people lived huddled together within the confines of a series of walled communities that dotted the landscape of Europe, Africa and Asia. The residents depended on the local ruler to provide security. It was incumbent upon each community to provide for all of its needs.

There was to be no calling for help in time of crisis. This notion prevailed because these folks nurtured, preserved and enhanced the argument that their enemies in the other walled cities would take that call for assistance as a sign of weakness. Therefore, these cities had to prepare for every eventuality. It placed a real strain on their resources.

The local rulers in turn preyed on the ignorance and fear of those who lived within the confines of their closed communities. They extracted a large portion of the income, products or produce produced by these highly dependent people. These rulers also spoke of the people and the rulers in other closed communities as being evil, mean and nasty.

Whether the facts supported the spiel of these village rulers was of no consequence. The people never left their community to see what was going on in other places. People in these societies were governed by a rule of local law that stated, "We've always done it that way." These laws were enforced by a group of men known as the We've Always Done it That Way Warriors. They fell into three classes of member: the boss, the naysayers and the enforcers.

The boss told people what to do. His job was simple. The naysayers went to the citizens when they heard of a progressive idea. They sought to discourage any attempt at creating new ideas and procedures. Regardless of the idea, they would scoff and suggest that if it were such a great idea, the ruler would have thought of it.

Enforcers had a simpler job. When the ruler said to break a few heads, they sallied forth into the community and whacked the offending community residents over the head with a maul. Their mission was to discourage the development of independent thinking. It wouldn't do for people to have ideas that were at a divergence from what the ruler wanted.

I would think it possible that you may have met examples of these people within your organization. They still exist. And their functions and rolls within society remain the same. Give orders, discourage thought, and keep the folks within the village under control and ignorant of events in the outside world.

Civilization stagnated. Fear ran rampant. Advances in every field were stymied by the enforcement efforts of the We've Always Done it That Way Warriors. So it was for many centuries.

Luckily for us, civilization has advanced to a great degree. We no longer live in isolated little enclaves, protected by our local warrior leaders. Right?

Wait a minute. Does that historical story suddenly seem strikingly familiar to you? I know that it brought several ugly flashes of reality to the video monitor located within my mind's eye. I am afraid that this historical vignette could describe the manner in which a great many of the fire kingdoms have arisen around the world. It also has the potential for explaining many of our problems within the fire service.

This content continues onto the next page...