After nearly thirty years in our business, I have reached the conclusion that the single most powerful leadership tool is role modeling. A firefighter is quick to judge another firefighter (or officer) on how they behave or act, rather than on what a member might say. To illustrate, if a person remarks that they are an excellent apparatus operator, the internal alarm sounds ("sure you are pal") with sincere doubt. It's like all fire fighters were born in the great state of Missouri, the "show me state". However, after executing superbly at the wheel, the same firefighter would likely offer a word or two of honest praise. I would like to share a few thoughts and some advice on the importance of role modeling.
Another strong argument to support my position is a recent letter that crossed my desk. I must get two or three thank you letters per week, but this one was very interesting. The correspondence started off very positive, as most of them do. The young lady took time from her schedule to write and was very complimentary about the professionalism and dedication of our Department. I was beaming with a wide grin as I scanned the rest of the document. The third paragraph began with the word "However" and I knew that the smile would soon dissolve. The purpose of her writing to me was to describe a negative behavior that one of our members displayed during a parade.
The woman wrote that her two year old son pointed out that a bike medic was holding onto the rear step grab rail of a pumper. He was allowing the engine to pull him through the parade route. The child said to his mother, "No-No Mommie No-No", as he directed her attention to our guy breaking a biking rule.
Interestingly, she went to say that the boy had learned about proper bicycling techniques from, none other than, a Dothan firefighter. What a powerful demonstration of the effects of the role modeling behavior in action. I'm sure that this incident has had a lasting effect on the little boy, considering that his mother took time to send off a letter of complaint.
Next, think back to a time when a ranking officer may have "dashed" into a hazardous area without the proper personal protective equipment. I can not count the number of times that I've seen this weakness appear at alarms. It is as though the rules don't apply to the "gold badge club". Or maybe a new policy is placed into effect and the station officer is quick with negative remarks.
When anybody violated the rules of your organization, how did the troops feel about this event?"