Leadership Lessons: An Effective Leader Facilitates A Quality Work Environment

Retention, productivity and satisfaction. Every fire department grapples with trying to improve these areas. What many leaders fail to recognize is the need for “connection.”

A Gallup Organization study of more than 80,000 employees in different sectors revealed 12 dimensions directly related to higher employee satisfaction, higher retention and higher productivity. Every one of these 12 dimensions requires you, the leader, to stay connected. Here’s what the firefighters under your command want from you:

Dimension 1 – Tell me what’s expected of me. Followers want to know what their leaders expect from them. They need clear communication and that requires staying connected enough to relay those expectations on a regular basis. Relaying expectations in a job description is not enough. People need and want ongoing clarification and communication face to face, not just in an email.

Dimension 2 – Give me the materials, tools and equipment I need to succeed. Employees indicated that in order to be successful, they need the appropriate materials, tools and equipment to do a great job. Staying connected with your followers will let you be in continual communication about what they need. When you provide the tools they need to succeed, they will help you succeed.

Dimension 3 – Let me do what I do best. If you have firefighters assigned to committees and tasks that don’t fit their skills, talents and passions, they will not fully succeed or fulfill their true potential. Followers want to know leaders care enough to put them in a position to do what they do best. If you don’t stay connected with your followers, how will you know what areas they excel in off the fireground? An investment of time, energy and connection is needed to accomplish this.

Dimension 4 – Give me recognition and praise. Personal praise from leaders is shown in many studies to be at the top of the list for employee satisfaction. Instead of general praise like “You’re doing a great job”, try very specific praise like “I was so impressed with the way you handled that angry member of the public. You set a great role model example of our department core values.”

Dimension 5 – Assure me that my supervisor cares about me. It would be pretty tough for followers to feel like you care about them if you don’t stay connected to them. Battalion chiefs who glue themselves to their desks make it very difficult to connect with the troops and as a result, people often feel as if you don’t care.

Dimension 6 – Encourage my development. Followers want to be mentored and coached by their leaders. Spending the time to develop people in their jobs and in their careers requires staying connected.

Dimension 7 – Value my opinions. Employees want to know that leaders value their opinions. This means seeking out the opinions of your firefighters and demonstrating that their input is actually taken into account when making important decisions, especially decisions that directly affect them.

Dimension 8 – Make sure I know our organization’s mission, purpose and values. As I discussed in earlier columns, firefighters need to know the mission of the department as well as its core values. Staying connected lets you be involved in ongoing discussions about these key issues. Continual communication will reinforce the department’s mission, purpose and core values.

Dimension 9 – Let me do quality work. People need the sense of satisfaction that comes from producing quality work. This is much easier to accomplish when very clear communication has taken place as to what a quality outcome looks like.

Dimension 10 – Encourage me to have a best friend at work. Having quality relationships in the workplace is a key element for employee satisfaction. While most leaders cannot be the best friend in the workplace, they can certainly be an important element in the quality relationship factor. Additionally, leaders can encourage followers in their relationships and work with them to ensure healthy workplace relationships are taking place.

Dimension 11 – Talk to me about my progress. This is often facilitated by annual performance reviews. That is just not enough for people. An annual or even semi-annual performance review should be nothing more than a written confirmation of what you have discussed with your firefighters throughout the year. What employees really want is ongoing conversations about their progress, where they can improve and where they are excelling.

Dimension 12 – Give me opportunities to learn and grow. People have an innate drive to learn and grow. Leaders have a large responsibility to provide an environment where growth and learning can flourish. By staying connected to your followers, you can discover the specific areas of interest for growth and learning for each and every one of your followers.

These 12 dimensions, which employees need so they will consider themselves to be in a quality work environment, can all be facilitated by an effective leader. Staying connected to your firefighters in all of these areas communicates a deep care and concern that they need to thrive. The investment of time and energy that it will require will be well worth it.