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The normal thrust of any article about motivation that you might read in a modern fire service magazine is usually directed toward the person working in a supervisory capacity. That article will discuss the many ways to create a well-motivated work force. This is a valid approach, in that it is the effective leader who normally sets the tone and tenor in any working environment. This goes along hand-in-glove with the old legend that water generally flows downhill.
I too have taken this approach on many occasions. How can an organization succeed if the leader fails to motivate the troops? That is a critical part of every discussion of organizational success we have ever read. However, I am not going to speak about motivating the troops in this column.
No, in keeping with my usual proclivity for playing the devil's advocate and taking the flip side of an argument, it is my intention to discuss the topic of motivation from the inside out. I am here to talk about self-motivation this month. More importantly, I want to discuss the role that stress reduction plays in self-motivation, and the maintenance of sanity within the head of an effective leader.
Not only is this a topic that is usually absent in the trade publications, there is a really good reason for each and every member of the American fire service to consider the matter of self-motivation. I firmly believe that it falls under the general heading of "all work and no play make Jack (or Jill) a dull boy (or girl)." If they are really lucky, they will just be dull and boring. If they are not so lucky, all work and no play will destroy Jack's/Jill's psyche and turn them into burned-out hulks.
It is critical to note that not every one of your leaders out there has bothered to read about or learn about how to motivate people. Of course by my definition, if you do not know these things, you can hardly be considered a leader. Even worse, you never bother to stop and see what your job is doing to you.
It has been my experience that people who are not steeped in the lore of motivation can be easily identified. In watching them at work, you are easily convinced that you have seen them before, perhaps in a movie. The problem comes from the fact that they played the part of the concentration camp guard in a cheap World War II movie.
This perception is all well and good, if you are just observing these people as a dispassionate spectator, from the outside. Unfortunately, if you are serving as one of the inmates in the prison camp, things take on a decidedly different tinge.
The problem with this situation stems from the fact that most of you do not have the ability to just pick up and move to a new work environment. Maybe you have 15-20 years tied up in your department. It might also be that you feel that your particular boss is just passing through and that you will simply outlast him or her.
Whatever the reason, working in an environment such as this can age a person rapidly. Perhaps you like the job and not the boss. If this is the case, at least it's a bit easier to work around the problem. In any event, what steps might you take to make a tough situation a bit easier to endure? You will have to indulge in stress relief to remain sane and able to lead the troops under your command.
The first thing I would suggest for you to do is divide your life into three distinct components.
Some of the worst stress-related cases of burnout come from situations where people do not consciously separate their working selves from their at-home selves. This I know for a fact. We know this because I have personally suffered a great deal from this very problem.
Essentially, this is a trap into which you can quite easily fall. And you can fall never really suspecting that you are being sucked into a bog of quicksand. This is especially true if you really like your job and care a great deal about how it is done. Whether you carry your work home in a briefcase or in your mind, the result can end up being the same.