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In this, my latest discussion of the concept of leadership, I am going to attempt to reach out and touch you. But it is not my intention to do it in the fine old, classic touchy-feely way of the telephone commercials of my youth. It is my intention to do it in the attention-grabbing manner taught to me by my third grade teacher back in 1954.
As I recall, she had a long-handled blackboard pointer. When you committed some form of mistake, she called you to the fore and gave you a whack. I use this example to show my parochial school buddies that "the educational smack" was something that was also used outside of the tightly knit sectarian world of the parochial institution. It might also give you pause to wonder why I would remember it so well, after so many years. I leave that to your imagination.
At this point, let me issue my warning. Bad leaders of the world, prepare to get a whack on the hands for the massive amount of pain and suffering you are causing the troops in your care. You are the people who live to fulfill your own desires. You are the people too lazy to say thank you now and again. You are the people too self-absorbed to care about those poor nameless, faceless souls who labor in the vineyards of your fire department.
I want you to know that I am not referring to those fine people who always put the concerns of their troops before their own. You have paid attention on your way through the ranks and have learned to love people. As you might remember, I talked with you in my last Command Post column about the critical need for honesty as an integral part of the psyche of our most effective leaders. No, I am headed in a distinctly different direction this time.
How many people do you know in positions of leadership who are nothing more than organizational roadblocks? Their sole function is to sit in the middle of the bureaucratic road of your fire department, stopping the flow of information and ideas.
They are also deathly scared of thinking, and of people who know how to think. Many times, they leave a good idea lying bloody on the side of the organizational road. Wake up, gang, and start creating the next generation of leaders.
However, there is a serious problem that cannot be ignored. It seems as though there is a growing gap between the people of my generation (age 48-58) and the newer members of the fire service. We, as a group, tend to look upon these younger whipper-snappers as interlopers in our well-ordered world. We think that they should do things like we do, "just because that's the way things are."
This creates a communications gap between people who use the same words in the presence of each other, with different meanings attached to the verbiage. Many think this is an insoluble problem. I do not see it that way. I think that this gap can be bridged quite easily by the simple mechanism of communications. But the parties have to be proactive. The organizational-roadblock type of person is just too lazy to do a good job. But I see my experience as something that I can share with you, for our mutual benefit.
It is my deep and abiding belief that my frequent assignments to the training division, throughout my career in the Newark, NJ, Fire Department, were a real blessing, although sometimes it was a real blessing in disguise. For most of the 1980s and 1990s, I had the privilege of meeting the next generation of the Newark Fire Department as they entered through the front door. I was most fortunate in being able to see the changing face of the fire department as it actually evolved. I tried to do two things:
- Share my love of the fire service with them.
- Learn about them as people.
This taught me a critical lesson. How you welcome people on board your ship is a critical part of how they will fit in as members of the Good Ship S.S. Fire Department in your community. If you are lazy and don't show an interest in people, you can ruin them right at the most impressionable stage in their career development.