Command Post: Riding the Right-Front Seat: Sharing Your Knowledge

Let me begin by making a simple, but direct comment: If you are going to lead people, you must be able to train people. Everybody in positions of leadership, regardless of rank, must be able to share their knowledge and experience with the people who have been entrusted to their care.

Whether you are running a fire department or a fire company, the need will exist for you to be able to impart knowledge. Of course, the higher up the food chain you are, the greater the chance you will be supervising instructors, rather than teaching people yourself. That is how it was for me during my time as the chief of training in Newark, NJ. I was more of an administrator than an instructor.

 

Teaching the troops

It was not always that way. As a company captain, it was up to me to see that our team followed the training schedule each day at work. I brought the actual experiences of the day-to-day operations into our training sessions. As I moved up in rank, so did my responsibilities. As a battalion chief, I made sure my captains were training their troops. I did this by sitting in on their sessions and monitoring the educational deliveries.

It was at the battalion level that I was able to bring the companies in my battalion together to create multi-company training operations. However, I still called on my captains to conduct classroom classes and actual hands-on training. I knew then, as now, that you must empower your people in order for them to become better at what they will be called on to do during emergency operations.

My captains responded quite well. They appreciated the fact that I valued their experience and abilities. They also appreciated the fact that I allowed them to try things in their own way. There were successes and there were failures, but I was never judgmental. Too much criticism could have stifled their enthusiasm and undermined the training effort. Other chiefs wanted to make every decision and supervise every class. That is not how I saw things.

The mind is an extremely complex commodity. When it is ready and willing, it can do wonders. That is what I saw with my captains. When the mind does not want to perform, it is difficult to achieve anything. The actual motivation for the officer and the student can come from a variety of sources.

Some of the common motivators are recognition, money or promotions. In other cases, it is the desire of the student to learn that must be nurtured by the leader. Empowerment of each organizational level can create fabulous results, particularly in volunteer fire departments, since money is not a factor in your motivational toolkit. Likewise, it is the satisfaction with the creation of an effective team that can stimulate your right-front-seat leaders to step up and become effective organizational motivators.

When it comes to motivation, you must make a conscious effort to learn how to inspire your troops to do the best job possible. The things that we need (and want) in life create goal-driven behaviors on our part. A need has been described by some experts as a deficiency in our personal being at a given time; something that, if provided, will make us a whole person again.

Perhaps the best description of needs and what they are comes from the work of Abraham Maslow, who developed an excellent analytical frame of reference with regard to what he perceived needs to be. His “Hierarchy of Needs” is a standard starting point in any discussion of human behavior or its effect on education.

We can all draw heavily from Maslow’s theories for our own training programs. We must both work hard to encourage our teams and we should be encouragers and promoters of the advancement of our team’s agenda. Let me suggest that we will draw upon my experience and education to illustrate how the hierarchy of needs can be met in the classroom.

 

MASLOW’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS

 

  • Self-Actualization: Performing beyond what is required
  • Esteem: Recognized by peers. Praising in front of peers
  • Social and Belonging: Being accepted by others determines classroom behavior
  • Safety and Security: Adequate knowledge base to belong in class
  • Physiological: Pleasing classroom environment

 

Like many other parts of individual human behavior, these needs are progressive in nature; that is, we may not move to a higher level until the needs at the lowest level are fulfilled. It is hard to be an active class participant when you are hungry or thirsty. Further, it is difficult to reach a high level of self-esteem when you are not accepted by your fellow students. As the leader and teacher, it is up to you to see that these environmental needs are met.

Experts in education say learning is most likely to occur under conditions of focused attention and deliberate effort. When people are motivated to learn for reasons that are very important to them, they will learn. The stronger the force of the motivation, the greater the level of learning.

As a leader interested in sharing knowledge, it is your duty to ensure that conditions exist that let this change in behavior occur. To accomplish this, you must understand what motivates people, then create an environment in which those motivational opportunities exist. In other words, you must create a departmental mindset wherein education and knowledge are valued commodities.

Many fire chiefs and administrators are scared of knowledge. They do not want you to know more than they do. They hold the sharing of information to a minimum because an enlightened fire department is a threat to their weak hold on power. Needless to say, they are not effective leaders. Be aware of the difficulties of working in an environment like this, but do not let this stop your personal drive for learning excellence.

To assist you in your development of a learning environment, you must understand the various types of learning that can occur. Perhaps the most expensive, time-consuming and least effective is our old friend trial and error. Put this method on the back burner. It can kill and maim its practitioners.

By understanding how people learn, you can develop a more effective approach to teaching. You can create bite-sized pieces of learning that can be easily digested by your students. Some of these may involve discovering new information, facts and ways of doing things.

Once your students know about these things, and can explain them, you can help them translate these facts into new and related situations. The ability to transfer knowledge to new situations is a good sign that relatively permanent learning has happened.

 

Three ways to learn

The three basic ways in which learning occurs are:

  • Cognitive
  • Psychomotor
  • Affective

It is in the Cognitive domain you find your most commonly understood method of learning. Here you are dealing with recall or recognition of knowledge and the development of intellectual abilities and skills. You will find that the delivery of information in the cognitive domain is handled through the medium of technical information lectures.

Psychomotor, or skill learning, is the range of learning used by those of us who train fire and emergency service workers. This type of learning encompasses those competencies needed to actually maneuver an implement or make a bodily move to do something. I am talking about the combination of brain and brawn to get a job done.

That part of learning about which we know the least is the Affective domain. This is the touchy feeling part of learning that deals with our attitudes and feelings as they impact on our ability to gain knowledge. Our development as individuals bears directly on our learning capability and capacity. As we discuss this domain of learning, you will begin to see just why it is such an imprecise area of expertise.

The levels of Affective learning are sequential in nature, building one on the other. They move from basic awareness of something to making it a part of their chosen attitudes. They then do their job in the newly learned way.

As you assume your role as a right-front-seat leader in your fire department, please be aware of the importance of your training duties. I hope I have convinced you that if you are to succeed as a leader, you must succeed as a teacher and trainer. If your troops cannot look to your for the new skills and knowledge they need to do their job, the will look elsewhere, and your time as an effective leader will have passed.

It is my firm conviction that a good leader is a good teacher, and a great leader is a great teacher. Keep this in your heart and think about it frequently.

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