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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.