Where are you Going? Three Principles for Identifying Your Path

Albert Einstein, perhaps the most intelligent human being who ever lived, once boarded a train in Princeton, New Jersey bound for Boston. Einstein immediately began fumbling for his ticket upon finding a seat on the train.

The concept of teamwork also has to be continually emphasized for a successful program. Since most hazmat teams are extensions of fire departments the idea of teamwork usually is not a problem. Yet, teamwork can be reinforced and magnified within the hazmat team arena because of the more specialized tasks, training, and the size of the team. The smaller numbers of team members provide a great setting for developing an "esprit de corps" or a bond between team members.

It can be observed that successful hazmat programs exhibit a unique closeness and trust between team members. These unique relationships among members of hazmat teams may be because of the nature of hazmat response. The teamwork concept is truly grasped and the phrase "there is no 'I' in team" has new meaning. In the hazmat team concept true synergy develops where the sum is much greater than the individual parts. Team members rely on each other and they all realize they are interdependent on each other in order to achieve team goals. With hazmat response teams the successful programs promote the concept of "the strength of the pack is in the wolf and the strength of the wolf is in the pack". In other words, no single member is more important than the other but in combination all members working together become the strength of the group.

Successful programs also develop a "quiet confidence" in team members as a result of their hazmat team affiliation. They seem to walk with confidence because of their competence. They are good at what they do and they exude an air of confidence to others, but, they are also humble and know their limitations.

Successful programs seem to expedite the join-up process.

The Eyes on the Prize Principle

Another principle to follow is to maintain the focus of the program. Strive to evaluate your program from time to time to see if you are hitting the nail on the head. Are you on track? Are you following what was identified as your organizational or program mission statement? Are you working towards or achieving your goals? Are your personnel involved and committed to the program? These are all questions that must be asked and contemplated periodically.

The road toward the program goals may seem long and slow but improvements should be viewed on a long-term basis. Gregory Noll, a noted hazmat educator and author, once said that we should avoid evaluating our programs by watching the clock but more so by the calendar. Noll emphasizes that improvements will come but patience is the key. Remember, too, the old adage that the way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Quality programs take time.

The great basketball coach, John Wooden, also stressed to his teams the "slow and steady" concept. Wooden continually drilled his players in the basics, improved their conditioning, and worked hard at the mental aspects of basketball, all in small increments. Hazmat programs are similar; much hard work takes place and then one day, in retrospect and review, the program seems to have made huge improvements.

Conversely, setbacks or efforts that fall short of goals should also be evaluated. View them as opportunities to improve and not necessarily as setbacks. Through analysis the reasons they became setbacks can be corrected and quite often the experience can actually strengthen the program. Vince Lombardi, the great Green Bay Packer coach, once said that people could learn more from their defeats than from their victories.

So, commit to your path and then stay the course. Through reflection and evaluation if you find that your path has varied make adjustments as necessary. Equally important is to identify successes and goals achieved, and then celebrate them. It is vitally important for all personnel to see that progress has been made and hard work and team efforts have paid off. This celebration also strengthens the bond between team personnel and serves to build up more inertia for accomplishing additional goals. Celebration also develops positivity, which begets more positivity. Successful programs seem to build upon their successes, which propels or drives the organization in future endeavors. In short, success breeds success!