Many of you have known me for a long time now. You know what motivates me and you also know the heart and soul of my true passion in this life. Let me suggest that it is time to return to my roots and paint a new version of an old picture. Let me lay it all on the line here. It is my fervent belief that if you are really a leader, you must at some point wake up and smell the coffee (or in my case, the cigar smoke). If we are leading people, you and I are waist-deep in the midst of the knowledge business.
Whether it is in the gathering in of a wide range of facts, the monitoring of the latest technical trends, or in the arena of influencing human interaction, you must be aware of the latest and the best ideas on doing this thing we call firefighting. And you must learn to share and play well together in school. Doesn’t that sound like something your kindergarten teacher was trying to tell you oh so many years ago?
Some of the saddest examples of leadership deadwood that I ever met were people who never shared what they knew. I guess the best way to categorize these people is to lump them all together into a general class of human sub species known as knowledge hogs. I have bumped into people like this time and again as I move through my career in the fire service.
These people are not hard to identify, once you catch on to them. You see them at many of the big fire service conferences. They are paying rapt attention to the words of every speaker. They grab two or three copies of every handout, and the badger the sales people in the exhibition halls to learn everything they possible can about the latest in technology.
Now you may be saying, Harry, what is so bad about that type of behavior? Don’t we want people to do that? Yes we do. But the part of the equation that makes these people so useless occurs upon their return to their communities. It is an event which is easy to spot and sad to witness.
These are folks who could become a real source of help to their departments, many of which paid the tariff for these knowledge hogs to travel far and eat at the finest restaurants. But they don’t, because the keep everything they learn to themselves. They get some weird sense of self-importance from the fact that they can go amongst their associates saying to themselves, “… I know more than you do."
But Harry, you may be asking, who would be so selfish? Trust me, these books are far more numerous that you might imagine. They are out there and they are a drag on our organizations. In their minds they feel quite important, but in their organizations they are a real source of hard feelings. People like this do sometimes arrive in positions of leadership. Whether by civil service test, political appointment, or by ballot, they sometimes gain positions where they can spread their doctrine of selfishness.
These folks are dangerous my friends. I say this because they like to gather similar selfish souls unto themselves. Then you have a clique made up of self-righteous "Knowledge Nazis". They have enough knowledge to do many good works, but they keep it to themselves, because they feel that it gives them power over those who do not know as much (or so the Knowledge Nazis think).
Just remember that a person with a thirst for knowledge will seek out the necessary sources to quench their thirst. But think of the divisive nature of an environment like this. A good leader is a sponge when it comes to knowledge. They are always out there sucking up the widest possible array of knowledge.
But remember, in order to be effective, a sponge operates in two ways. It can suck up a great amount of fluid. But if you want to be able to use the sponge a second time, you must squeeze the fluid out and go back for another load.
As I said at the beginning of this visit with you, a good leader is a teacher. Just what do you need to know in order to become a good teacher? Remember that a good teacher is one who can create an environment wherein learning is a prized activity. Perhaps a good place to start would be a basic definition of what learning is. How can you teach if you are not aware of how learning occurs?