Almost: The Fine Art of Just Settling for Something

How many of you have a litany of stories about how you almost won something, were elected to something, or just missed winning something? After more than six decades of trying and succeeding (and trying and failing) I am here to tell you that for far...


The leaders in my fire department show up and do their job. They are at the drills and meetings. They do not hide in the office doing paperwork when the troops are performing the work details. They lead our troops from the front. They are all frequent attendees at the Fire Department Instructor's Conference (FDIC) and the Firehouse Expo in Baltimore. They do this because that is the behavior which has been modeled in our department for a long time now.

Let me put forward another observation. The active firefighting troops hang out together. They attend classes at the county fire academy and spend time together in active BS sessions around the firehouse. They gain knowledge both in the formal venues and informally in the comfort of the Adelphia firehouses.

One of the criteria for attendance at the FDIC is an individual's activity levels in the fire company. We reward the active troops with the benefit of outside education. Those who "almost" show up and fail to follow through are counseled and in some cases improve. You need to take an active role in working to improve the performance of your marginal, problem children.

To that end, let me suggest something that I learned many decades ago as a young Captain in the Newark, New Jersey Fire Department. This involves placing the eager person with the not so eager person. You then must work to bring the enthusiasm of the hard-charging person to bear on the person who is not performing quite so well. The same thing can be done at the small group level. It has been my personal experience that the enthusiasm of an active group is contagious.

However, you cannot leave anything to chance here. You must be there to work with your people. As the leader, you must model the behavior you wish to see among your troops. If you want people to be on time, be there early and encourage them to meet with you.

If you want people to attend the drills, you must attend them. More than that, it is critical to insure that you never waste people's most valuable commodity: Time. Your drills must advance the knowledge level of your department's members. You must succeed in developing effective drills. You must develop and present team-oriented sessions. Almost is not good enough.

Let me suggest that you concentrate on goal setting and goal attainment. Drifting aimlessly through life is not the way to move toward success. No, it will assure a life filled with "amost" or "almost-like" situations. It is critical for you to follow through on the goals you set for yourself. Nothing happens automatically in this world. None of us was born with any guarantees as to our potential for success. Even those people who are born into families with great wealth and advantages are still just as subject to screwing up as you and me.

It is also important that each of you reach out to other people to assist you in building your fire department forward into the future. The goals which are developed must be goals which are agreed to by the organization. That is why cooperation and interaction with other folks is so important. This is not always easy. Some people are difficult to deal with. However, you must suck it up and do what is right for your fire department. That is how you will move toward assuming the true mantle of leadership within your organization.

This will not just happen. You will need to invest the proper amounts of time, talent, and enthusiasm in this effort. A good example of how to do this comes from the world of music. Think about the job which is performed by orchestra and band conductors. They must blend the wide array of musical talent in their group into a cohesive entity.

It may well be that you have the best people at every position. However, unless you blend them together, emphasizing their strengths and working to overcome their shortcomings, you will not be able to achieve the best possible musical presentation. I have played with a number of groups which fell just short of delivering a pleasing musical performance. Trust me when I tell you that the sound created by a group which "almost" comes together is not as pleasing as one where the talents are properly brought together. After all, it is the actual performance which really counts. So too is it in our world.

Let me close by suggesting a couple of attributes for those of you who do not want to "almost" succeed as leaders to consider:

  • Focus
  • Common sense
  • Simplicity