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Over the past many months, I have written a great deal about the concept of leadership. This was a conscious decision on my part. I have seen a growing number of instances where problems came about in fire departments because people were simply not good leaders. As I have said on many occasions, good leaders are not born, they are made. With this in mind, I have taken up the crusade of identifying the wide range of skills that someone aspiring to a position of leadership must learn.
One of the primary skills that we discussed in 2000 was communications. Good leaders are able to convey their ideas to others in a variety of ways. This is a skill that is critical to a leader's success. If people are not able to understand what you want them to do, one of two things will happen:
- They will do nothing.
- They will do something.
This action is known as a decision. We will talk more about this in just a moment. Anyway, neither of these actions is a terrific option if it is selected in the absence of information and guidance.
Far too many people in positions of leadership assume that the troops know what they are thinking. Hey gang, none of us are that good. Anyway, that is why I concentrated on leadership in the early stages of this series on leadership. That act was what we in the leadership training business like to call a decision. And if you are to become an effective leader, you too must become skilled in the ability to make timely and effective decisions.
It has been my experience that it is critical for a person's decision-making skills to show themselves via the mechanism of a series of successful decisions, where one small decision is linked to the next. This is the concept known as the decision chain. It is these decision chains that you can use to form the basis for your success in any aspect of fire service operations.
These chains fall into one of three distinct groups:
- Problem-solving chains.
- Opportunity-exploiting chains.
- Project-management chains.
In the case of the problem-solving chain, you are forced to face situations which are not what you expect. Quite simply, something is wrong and a decision is needed to make it right. It is up to you to find out what is wrong and work to fix it. That fix will be your decision.
Decisions made under the opportunity-exploiting chain normally do not have the same level of urgency found with the problem-solving chain. In this case, the decision is driven by question of the difference between what is and what could be. In just about every fire department, the potential exists for improvements. A good decision involves the maximization of benefit for the agency. To be effective, the decision must be based on a reflective review of the organization as it actually exists. These are the sorts of decisions that let you advance to the next level of organizational success.
Decisions that are made under the project-management chain cover the day-to-day operations of the fire department, as well as any special projects. These may be routine decisions, such as managing a budget or determining which inspections will be conducted next week. They may also bear on the development of special projects such as new stations, new programs or a long-range apparatus-replacement plan. Your success as a leader and as a manager will come from making good day-to-day decisions.
It is critical to point out that the primary thing that you must recognize is that you have to acknowledge that a problem exists. If you do not see a problem, you cannot solve a problem. Unfortunately, people sometimes tend to react to problems with an air of ignorance or denial. Some of the ways in which people deal (or do not deal) with problems are:
- Deny that problems exist.
- Camouflage the problems.
- Blame someone else.
Problems do not go away just because you do not want to act on them. It has been my experience that they actually get worse. If people would just stop putting their head into the sand and face up to the fact that a problem exists, we would have fewer problems in the fire service.