My friends, rarely do I ever know on any given day exactly where my latest idea for a commentary will come from. Many times it is an example from one of my loyal, regular readers out there around the world. Sometimes a telling example comes roaring into my life from one of my three great children. At other times, my thoughts turn to a mistake I might happen to see in the world around me.
This visit with you came from a fairly unlikely source: The C-Span television network. I do not know how it happened, but I found myself eating a pleasant bit of lunch and watching the distinguished United States Senator Robert Byrd discussing his latest proposal to enhance our Homeland Defense posture. Since this is a topic near and dear to my heart, I sat down my newspaper and listened.
At some point, Senator Byrd yielded time to Senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota, who sought to speak in support of Senator Byrd's proposition. The good Senator seemed to be calling upon his colleagues for a bit of action. He wished to challenge them to step up to the plate and show some leadership with regard to the issue at hand. He began his speech with a short anecdote from one of our founding fathers, President John Adams. This particular story spoke of a time when Adams was concerned about the battles surrounding the great issues of independence.
As you might imagine our founding fathers were battling at that time to create the means for declaring their independence from England. Many of the citizens in the crowds of that day were probably strongly negative. How, they might have opined, could we do such a thing? Independence from England, why? We’ve never done it that way. How can we expect to succeed at something no one else has ever done?
I can only imagine the pressures that must have weighed heavily upon those men who were gathered together in the years just before we declared our independence from Great Britain. They were making hard decisions that had life or death decisions. Surely great wisdom and common sense were called for.
Think about it folks, the rewards were potentially great. However, the negative consequences could be truly fatal. Had they been caught, they could have been tried, convicted, and executed as traitors to the King. Far greater consequence than you or I usually face in our daily lives.
In a letter to his wife Abigail, Adams bemoaned the fact that he was concerned about leadership. Quoting Adams, Dorgan offered the following comment from Adams’ letter. “Where are the leaders,” he said. He went on to wonder who was going to offer the leadership for this time and place. He stated that there are only Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Jefferson. What are we to do was his question.
Poor John Adams, he did not have the benefit of history to guide him at that particular moment. He had no idea how well it would all turn out. Over two and a quarter centuries later, we now know where the leadership came from. The leaders were those very people he mentioned who, when faced with hard times and hard decisions, called upon their reserves of intelligence, integrity, and guts, and did what we would call today, “the right thing.”
Senator Dorgan also spoke of one person for whom he did not feel any great historical appreciation. He spoke of how President Herbert Hoover was accused of just sitting around and waiting to see what happened. When leadership was called for, history tells us that Hoover sat on his hands as we sank deeper into the depths of a spiraling Depression.
My friends, we too might choose to ask a similar question. Where are the fire service leaders of the future? Who is going to take up the traces of leadership from those who are doing the job today? Given many of the poor examples which exist to day, this is a valid question. My friends, the answer is really quite simple.
Let me suggest that the leaders of the future are all around us. Unfortunately, far too many of the people who are supposed to be today’s leaders cannot see beyond the tip of their egotistically turned up noses. Each one of them thinks that they are the be all and end all of the universe. It never occurs to them that theirs is but a short time on the stage of life. They fail to realize their critical role in creating the leaders of the future. And in turn, they condemn us to keep repeating the mistakes of the past. In short, many of the people around us could be considered as nominees for a Herbert Hoover Award for Complacency, if such an award truly existed.
For some reason, they seem to suffer from the organizational immortality syndrome. They see themselves as being a forever sort of event. They fail to realize that they are merely the current occupants of the seat of command. Their egotistical myopia clouds their judgment, and rendered them incapable of seeing beyond the limited scope of their current time on earth.
If we are to succeed in the future, we must ask ourselves the same question that Senator Dorgan posed to the United States Senate. We must ask it right here, and we must begin to answer it right now. We cannot wait for others to do our work for us. We must each become the leaders of the future, and then work to grow more of them in the ever-changing world around us.
Where are the leaders? Where can we find them? Heck gang, this is not brain surgery. You just have to look around you. They might be cloaked in the body of that inquisitive young lady that you think is such a pest. Or they could possibly be that pain in the butt young fellow, you know, the one who follows you around all day; continually asking you those tedious “what about”, “how about”, and “why” sorts of questions. It might even be possible that the quiet person sitting in the back row of your staff meeting taking notes, but never talking, is the key to your success in the 21st Century.
However, many among you will never know, because far too many of you never take the time to look. You just keep telling everyone how hard it is to get everything done. You continue to indulge in crisis management. And you bemoan the fates from above that condemn you to work without help. Far too often your inward view blurs the reality of your situation.
You should be looking to build confidence in your people. You should be looking to empower the very people you ignore. Unfortunately, there are far too many people, who are allegedly the leaders of today’s fire service, who create more confusion than confidence in the hearts and minds of the very people who have the ability to help you with your problems.
Far too many fire chiefs are not willing to allow their people to try new approaches to operational tasks. These are the proponents of the “we’ve always done it that way” or the “we’ve never done it that way” schools of thought. They are concerned that their people will fail and that THEY will look bad. They do not exhibit a whit of support for those people who are the next generation and who will become the leaders of the future.
Recently, I dealt with a fire chief in my home state of New Jersey who has made personnel support and development a key cornerstone in his operational personality. I have been involved in a number of consulting projects over the years with the fine folks in the Evesham-Township Fire-Rescue Department in southern New Jersey. I have interacted with them on many occasions over the past two decades.
My dear friend, Chief Ted Lowden, has served as the organizational head of this progressive, suburban combination fire department for nearly two decades. His people are the most important thing in the world to him. He serves them well too. During my recent project with them, I worked almost exclusively with the people he had assigned to complete the project.
Then-Captain Bryan Ward was the man who identified the state funding for the project in question. He presented the bare bones of the proposed project to the Chief. He outlined the facts, funding, and fundamentals of his project to the chief. Ted then told him to go for it. The project has been eminently successful, and as a result, the department now has an entirely new set of hazardous materials plans, procedures, and programs. Let me now point out that Bryan is Ted Lowden's Assistant Fire Chief.
There were no shortfalls. All requested data was received, and any request for assistance was made instantly, willingly, and with a smile. Chief Ward is a leader in training. He is challenged, supported, and nurtured. I firmly believe that if something had gone wrong, Chief Lowden would have been there for Bryan. And all of the parties to the interaction would grow via the process.
How different this type of support is from other places I have visited, or for whom I have worked. I have seen places where every important report had to leave the front office with the boss’s name splattered all of the cover, and every other part of the document. Some people are so insecure that they do not wish to encourage the perception that other people know more or can do more than they can.
If we want to know where the leaders are, we must learn to look around us, and then we must adopt the Ted Lowden format for organizational development. We must delegate, nurture, support, and encourage our people. You must be continually on the look out for diamonds in the rough. Your must learn to become and encourager and promoter of the people in your world.
Leaders in action must continually seek to clone themselves. Let us go back to the question posed by John Adams back in the formative days of this country. Thanks to a review of history in the years since 1776, we can now provide an answer to his question. We now can tell him where the leaders came from.
· It was Jefferson who labored valiantly to create the Declaration of Independence.
· It was Madison who helped to draft the constitution. It was Madison who helped to create the first ten amendments to the constitution.
· It was Franklin who worked diligently to round off the rough edges of our early government. He was he who brought France into the Revolutionary War on our side. He was our first great international diplomat.
· It was Washington who served as our first President. It was Washington who was “… first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
As you can see, John Adams was surrounded by some of the greatest leaders in the history of the civilized world. But to him, they were just his contemporaries. Perhaps had he known how things were going to turn out, he would have had more confidence in the people around him. However, he just had to plow ahead, having faith that people him would do their best to reach their collective vision for a free country. I am sure that there were many false starts and missteps, but the pressed on and got the job do. They shared a collective ideal and worked as a team.
This is just how it is going to be for us. We can expect to have no more certainty in our lives than did the founding fathers. After all, it is the journey itself that it is the destination. We need to surround ourselves with the best people we can find. We need to create a vision for our people. We need to communicate it to them. We need to train all of the people around us, so that they can perform at their highest possible individual level.
Most of all we need to encourage them to try. When they succeed, we must praise them. When they do not, we need to pick them up, dust them off, and help them to become better people. Our mistakes become what we lovingly call experience. But they become useful, only if we learn from them and profit from them.
The next time that someone around you asks, “… where are the leaders(?)”, the answer is quite simple. They are all around you, just open up your eyes and open up your hearts. Comfort them, and do not confound them. You can create miracles, if you but pause to try.