Many times during my career I have been accused of being just a bit too “touchy-feely” for many in my approach to preaching the gospel of fire department organizational effectiveness. There are those who have said, “You gave too much of yourself to your subordinates.” There are those who have said that I have cared more for my people than the organization itself. To those of you who have leveled these criticisms, I would like to offer a heartfelt thank you. You have focused me on what I need to say. My response is simple. You can never care too greatly about your people.
In the first place, thank you for reading my many and varied commentaries over the years. Feedback is the only way that a writer can tell whether he or she is hitting the mark. In the second place, let me thank you for taking the correct read from what I have been saying about leadership and management. After many years of writing, I still strive to be relevant. And I want to share my deepest, most important beliefs with you.
Yes I cared more for my people than the organization. I always have. Why? Because I really do believe that people are the most important part of any organization. In fact, they are the organization. A fire department is no different from any other group in that it takes talented, knowledgeable and dedicated people to accomplish the mission. It also takes caring, talented, and concerned leadership which can stand the test of stressful situations, or at least that’s what I have witnessed over the past 47 years since I graduated from the U.S. Air Force Fire School at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois on the day before Thanksgiving in 1966. I hope you can see why I get a bit sentimental at this time of the year.
Organizational effectiveness also demands loyalty by all members to a shared vision. Many times during my training sessions, I have asked people to think about those traits which they believe that their favorite leaders have possessed. I have often asked my learners why it was that people would follow Old Chief What’s His Name to the very bowels of hell? In many cases the answer was simple. People will say they just did not want to disappoint that leader, because he was always there for them. He or she cared about me. That’s pretty touchy-feely, isn't it?
One of my favorite leaders comes from my days as an Air Force firefighter when I served in the Philippine Islands. The year was 1968, and the man to whom I make reference had been a master sergeant since World War II. Chief Master Sergeant Grant was the epitome of tough. Really tough! However, he was also eminently fair, it that he was tough on everyone, including he himself. However, only he could be tough on the guys. Heaven help the poor person who tried to get us. Sergeant Grant would not allow anyone to mess with us. More than that, our squadron commander, Colonel Moore, felt the same way about his fire department.
I can still remember the time when we royally flubbed up on a live-fire drill for visiting Filipino dignitaries. It was one of the most dreadful training sessions of which it was my misfortune ever to have attended. I can recall that higher levels of command in the region called for our heads on a platter, but Sergeant Grant would have none of it. We were his guys and nobody was going to mess with us.
He assured Colonel Moore, our squadron commander, that we would all learn the error of our ways. And learn we did. We had pit fires coming out of our ears. We fought pit fires during the day, during the evening, and even on Sundays. We groused and grumbled but by the end of that two-week period of retraining we could sure put out some fire. When next we had a demonstration for those dignitaries, we did very well indeed. And boy, did Sergeant Grant tell the world about what a fine body of men the members of his fire department were.