Fire Officers: I Once Was Lost but Now Am Found

The fire department is not just about one person. If you fail to create an environment wherein people can succeed, you will fail.

How many times have you and I listened to the mournful sounds of that old Southern spiritual "Amazing Grace"? If you are like me, you have heard it at literally scores of firefighter funerals over the years. I know it always brings a tear to my eye because it makes me think of the many friends for whom it was played over the years in Newark and here in Adelphia, N.J. It has become a true tradition in our service.

However, how many times have you paused to ponder the lyrics of this revered song? We did just this in church the other day. The sermon from our Scott Brown the Senior Pastor at the Colts Neck Reformed Church did just this. In his sermon on grace and forgiveness he discussed how it was important to recognize our sins before we asked for forgiveness. My friends, the list for me is long and I know this. For me that is why this sermon was so important.

Then as is my way I began to drift from the central scheme of Scott's sermon. I moved into the world of the fire service and began to think of my many selfish actions. Let me suggest that in the early part of my career I was into the gathering of a great many things for the betterment of me, myself, and I. I wanted to show the world how smart I was by getting a whole bunch of college degrees. I also wanted to be promoted to show the world just how great I was. Not good my friends.

Let me share an important fact with you right here and now. These are the worst of all reasons to seek anything. Seeking things just for the sole reason of gathering more things than your friends is not a good way to live. It is my guess that these sorts of selfish behaviors stem from the things we did as children in order to earn the approval of our parents and friends.

I sometimes think that this is part of the problem I have with my occasional bouts of boring, boastful behavior. This is something which I worked to overcome for many years now. My kids have helped me to rein this in. But just when you think that you have the genie trapped back in the bottle, you tip the bottle over, the stopper falls out, and out pops the genie. I remain an aging work in progress. But I keep trying, that is what really counts.

It was not until I had been in a position of leadership for a period of time that I discovered that it was not all about me. I learned very quickly that the sun did not rise and set around me personally. In those cases where I failed to take care of the troops the consequences of my action came very quickly. In some way the team I was leading would experience fail. Worst of all, it became painfully obvious that any failures which occurred would be laid directly at my feet.

Let me share this lesson with you. It is not all about you. If you fail to create an environment wherein people can succeed, you will fail. Yours is not the only way of doing business. Be open to change and be willing to seek advice from the people who will be most directly impacted by the actions you seek to take. None of us knows everything about everything. We must be willing to listen to others if we are to empower them and bring them fully into the heart of our organization and its operations.

Sadly, many are the younger people around us in positions of leadership who have yet to learn the important lessons of humanity and humility. The go about performing their duties much like human vacuum cleaners who are seeking to suck up all of the privileges which they think that their positions of leadership offer to them. Sharing with other folks is an unknown quantity among these trivial trophy-collecting troops. This is simply not right.

For these folks, the thought of treating others with kindness and compassion is something which only sissies do. These people stumble along through life shouting orders like the old "bull of the woods" leaders which were so common back in the days of sweatshops and dimly lit, old factories. My friends, this is not the recipe for organizational success for which your fire department should aim.

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