It has been said that the Global Positioning System (GPS) is one of the great modern inventions. It lets you navigate the streets of an unknown area with a degree of confidence and security. It lets you find your way through strange and challenging new places. It has been lauded as a tremendous tool.
An increasing reliance on the GPS, however, has eliminated a lot of thinking and replaced it with just doing what the GPS tells us to do. Are we still teaching our people how to read a map? Are we teaching them how to navigate through the crowded streets of our response districts? Are we asking them to go out and actually learn the street network in their response district? In many cases, I think not. Just look at some of the negative situations that have arisen from trying to do what the GPS tells us to do. Wrong turns down one-way streets and U-turns in busy intersections are just two of the missteps that come to mind.
The GPS is an electronic tool, subject to malfunctions and power failures. What do our people do if the tool fails and they are left to their own devices? It’ simple – somebody has to pull out a map and a compass and lay out a course for success.
It is my belief that we must maintain certain thought-based skills in the face of a rush to replace thinking with tools, toys and machines. There are certain timeless attributes you must possess, maintain and enhance. Whether it is reading a map, learning the streets in our response district or the moral values that guide us as ethical people, we must work at maintaining these skills. This holds especially true when it comes to taking care of those entrusted to you by your fire department. Understand that you have a moral compass at the heart of who you are as a person. As you ride the right-front seat of your leadership journey, you will need to review it, maintain it, use it and enhance it – and occasionally reset it.
There are many different aspects to your moral compass. Each is critical, but let me start with the two that lie at the center of all things good: honesty and integrity. To me, being honest means that you do the right thing. Integrity involves doing the right thing when no one is watching. They are inseparable.
Two other attributes that must lie at the heart of your moral compass are loyalty and courage. Being loyal means supporting your team members at all times. Loyalty is earned by the way 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. Just staying with your team in a dangerous situation is an excellent example of courage.
As the person riding the right-front seat, you are charged with setting to tone for your operation. A screamer scares people and sets a tone of false and misleading excitement. At times, it can take a great deal of willpower to remain calm, assess the situation and issue orders to perform challenging tasks. 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 easy. It takes time, talent, training and practice, but the rewards are great. Your people will ultimately be safer because of your efforts.
It is critical to support and encourage your people. Be there for them at all times. 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 it.
You must display pride in the efforts of your team, and that pride comes from the heart. You are proud of the efforts of your team because you work together, train together and face danger together. This is a pride built on effort and achievement, not boasts and false bravado.
Your efforts must always be unselfish. You must never be perceived as working your people hard so you can look good and take all of the credit for their blood, sweat and tears. People will think much more of you if you treat them in fairly and tactfully.
Let me suggest it is a compilation of all the preceding attributes that lets reach the ultimate level of success. Your people will trust you because they have faith in your abilities and know that you would do nothing consciously that could cause them harm. Faith and trust are at the apex of the leadership success.
It never hurts to take stock of yourself and your talents. You must also assess the nature of your team and their capabilities. These two tasks should occupy a great deal of your time and talent as a leader. Unless you periodically reset your internal compass, you risk losing your way and damaging your team.
Dr. Carter shares his perspectives in his “The View From my Front Porch” blog at: