Like many people in America I play the lottery games in my state. I have never won more than a few bucks, but as one famous writer has noted, "hope springs eternal in the breast of man." There is a lottery slogan which will serve as the foundation for this visit with you. "You've got to be in it to win it." If you think about it, this statement makes sense. You cannot win the lottery if you do not play the lottery. Neither can you be a part of your fire department's success if you insist on sitting on the sidelines.
Let me assure you that this visit with you is not about the efficacy of gambling, for you see, life is itself a game. No, I am making reference to the fact that life is not a spectator sport. If you expect to have an impact on life in the world today, you have to make a conscious effort to contribute. You cannot let the winds of change blow you about like a leaf in an autumn wind.
Like many of my thoughts on life in general, the genesis for this idea came while I was in church last Sunday. Chris Van Debunte, our associate pastor delivered a sermon entitled "A View from the Bleachers." This gist of his sermon revolved around the fact that if you want to have an impact on life, you have to do something. What that something is or might be can be the subject of much debate and conjecture, however, Chris suggested that it was important just to get up off your duff and be a positive part of life.
It is interesting for me to note that I had been thinking about a particular topic out there on my front porch which ties in quite nicely with this issue. On Saturday night last, I was out there in my thinking place, with my cigar and my thoughts, when it came to me that it was time to make another push toward the subject of mentors and their importance to the future success of any organization.
As I listened to Chris speak about the involvement of Biblical figures in the history of our faith, my Saturday night thoughts began to come into sharper focus. Neither you nor I have the right to sit in the bleachers of our fire departments and pitch nothing but bitches at the people who have stepped forward to take an active role in the running of our organization. We must act.
It has long seemed obvious to me that it is a lot easier to complain that it is to affect change. You really do not need a depth and range of grey matter to keep complaining about what you do not like. You do not need a brain, just a mouth. On the other hand, stepping up to the plate and taking a swing at the ball of leadership takes a lot more in the way of intelligence, common sense, and, of course, testicular fortitude.
As you might imagine, it has been my lot in life to absorb a great deal of flak for my ideas and ideals. Many times I wondered during my years in Newark why I seemed to be in so much more trouble than many of my fellow travelers. I did not arrive at an understanding of this quickly or easily. However, it did come to me one bright and sunny day. Harry, you get into more trouble because you try to do more than many other people.
Even if there was a common denominator for a 'screw-up index,' my numbers would be higher. Think about it this way. If there is a steady rate of screwing up in life, let's say ten percent, then if you try five new things, and I try ten new things, it just stands to reason that I would get into trouble more than you did. However, since I took great pride in twisting the tail of the mighty, my numbers were probably skewed a bit higher.
But here is the key fact my friends. I was always in there pitching. I tried and I failed, but I kept on trying. Eventually there would be some form of success. Once I learned the ways of the world in this arena, I was able to forge ahead and work with more focus and more diligence. What I also tried to do was share my knowledge of the system with the people who were on my team. We tried together, we worked together, we failed together, and when we eventually succeeded, we succeeded as a team.
Let me suggest to you that a key element in the success (or failure) of your organization comes from the manner in which the veteran members of your fire department share their knowledge with the newer members of the team. Yes, my friend, I am speaking about the concept of mentoring. There are some fire departments that embrace this concept, while others do not have a clue as to what it is and why they need it.
At this point, let me share some of my front porch thinking with you. What are some of the words which could be used to describe what a mentor is and what they do? Here are a few:
Each of these, when taken individually, forms an important part of how knowledge is shared in our world. Let me suggest that they key to any mentorship program is the effective combination of each of these concepts into a total package designed to help your new members become accepted as knowledgeable, productive members of your department. Each of the above skill sets is used in an appropriate manner when needed.
Long ago it was my good fortune to learn that advice and support from a senior member would go a long way towards making a young guy more successful. It was back during my years as a Cadet member of the Freehold First Aid and Emergency Squad in Freehold, New Jersey back in the mid 1960's. Our role, as defined by the squad, was to essentially carry things and hold the doors open for the members of the Senior Squad as they performed their duties. My buddies and I were just happy to be there, however, there were two men who thought that we could be of better value to the squad if we were allowed to help out in the placement of splints and bandages.
Both of these fine men are long-gone from the scene, but I still remember their lessons to us kids. Eugene "Bo Bo" Nowack, and Woodrow "Chubby" Lykes went to bat for us Cadets on more than one occasion. These two fine men showed us how to do the actual first aid part of our job and then allowed us to do it whenever possible.
They listened to our gripes and gave us wise counsel and good advice. They also took a lot of heat from the naysayers in the organization. However, these men had a vision for us that looked way down the road. I just wish I could tell you exactly how many of us Cadets advanced up through the ranks to become Captain of the senior squad, but there were a lot.
What then did these men provide to us kids that was so very important to us and to the future of the organization? Here is a short list for you to ponder:
· An understanding of how the system works
· A description our place and role within the system
· Tips to try
· A sympathetic ear when we tried and failed
· A pat on the back when we tried and succeeded
Are these tasks so hard to accomplish? Not really. What they require, however, is a sense of concern for the organization and a basic love of interacting with people. At this point you may be asking an important question. "Harry, how can I get to be a part of the game?"
The answer to this question can go in one of two directions. In the first instance, you can work to convince your fire department to develop an official mentoring program. You seek out people who like to be with people and who possess the experience and capabilities necessary to share their knowledge with the newer younger members of your organization. You help to shape your own destiny.
This may not be as easy as it sounds. For whatever the reason, there are many fire departments which are stuck in the past and which seem to get a kick out of harassing new people and belittling them in some form of a half-backed fraternity initiation sort of mentality. My friends this sort of harassment is not only a dated concept, but it may subject you to certain government-based sections for discrimination. It is counterproductive.
Let me suggest that while you are working to change your organization's view of mentoring, you can begin building individual bridges to the new folks all by yourself. You would probably be surprised about how important a smile, a kind word, and a firm handshake can be in starting a new member off on the right foot. You can become the mentoring ambassador. Let others see you at work and assess the success of your personal interactions.
However, as I state in the title of this visit with you, "…You can't live life from the sidelines." If you want to see change, you must work to create that change. Let it be change which advances rather than retards the engine of your organization. Be the example which can drive the train of mentoring into the station of success.