Start the New Year by Resetting Your Moral Compass

We are at the beginning of yet another new year. Was it not just Jan. 3 1, 2011? As I grow older, I begin to see the wisdom imparted to me by a senior buddy years ago. He told me that in many ways life is like a roll of toilet paper. He told me that the...


We begin the journey with the best of intentions. It is our intention to do the right things, to take care of our people, and complete all of our tasks on time and on target. But guess what. Life happens. We do what we do and then move on from there. Sometimes we get away with things and sometimes we get caught. Either way, we have strayed from the correct path and need to make some mid-course corrections.

Let me suggest that rare is the person I have ever met in the fire service who was really an out and out scoundrel. Most people have the best interests of their troops at the center of their heart and soul. No one starts out to make things tough for their own folks, but it has been known to happen. It is my suggestion that you should look to your own internal moral compass for guidance. If adjustments are needed, make them. This is America. You have the right to change. More than that, as a leader, you have the obligation to change.

There are many different aspects which make up your moral compass. Each is critical. However, it is my intention to start with the two which lie at the center of all things good. These are honesty and integrity. In the world of my youth, these two attributes were an accepted part of my environment. For you younger folks, let me suggest those were the days when the phrase, ".a man's word was his bond," said it all. People operated on a handshake and you did not dare go back on your word.

My personal definitions of these two concepts might help you to find your way in a troubled world. To me being honest means that you do the right thing. Integrity involves doing the right thing when no one is watching. Let me suggest that these two are inseparable

Two other attributes which must lie at the heart of your moral compass are loyalty and courage. Being loyal means to be supportive of your fellow team members at all times. I have often heard it said that you cannot demand loyalty. No, loyalty must be earned by the way in which you live your life and are loyal to your fellow travelers.

Courage involves facing danger and not losing your head, jeopardizing your associates, or acting in a rash and unsafe manner. Acting like this can bring pain and suffering to your associates. Just staying with your team in a dangerous situation is an excellent example of courage. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that you take risk just for the sake of taking risks. This makes you foolhardy rather than courageous.

As the person setting the moral tone for your team, you are charged with setting to tenor for your operation. A screamer will scare people and set a tone of false and misleading excitement. Sometimes it takes a great deal of willpower to remain calm, assess the situation, and issue orders to perform challenging tasks. Your screaming can tip the operational scales in favor of panic rather than rational operations.

Here is where good judgment comes into play. You must be able to observe a situation, weigh the operational factors involved, compare them to the resources at your disposal and then deploy your people in a safe and effective manner. This is not an easy task. It takes time, talent, training, and practice to become effective. However, the rewards are great. Your people will ultimately be safer because of your efforts.

It is critical to be there to support and encourage your people. I am not suggesting that you merely reduce your role to that of a cheerleader. No, an effective leader knows how to perform their duties in an unselfish manner. You need to be there for them at all times. No need to assess their needs and then work to help them achieve their goals. This takes a great deal of effort on your part, but the results are well worth the effort.

You must display pride in the efforts of your team. I am not speaking of the bold and boastful type of pride known to exist in bars and other public places. The pride to which I make reference comes from the heart. You are proud of the efforts of your team because you have worked together, trained together, and faced danger together. This is a pride built upon effort and achievement, not boasts and false bravado.

One of the keys to success as leader comes from showing the persistence necessary to keep working and training to meets the needs and goals of your troops. It has often been said that persistence is at the heart of all great successes. When faced with the trials and adversities of life, it is the person with persistence who will work through the physical and mental pain to reach a successful outcome.