Carter: Managing Old-fashioned Values During Change

April 1964 was a momentous month for me. It marked my entry into the emergency services world.  That is the point in my life when I was privileged to become a part of the Freehold, N.J., First Aid squad as a 16-year-old, rookie cadet member of that fine organization. While some of the memories have surely faded, I can still recall my first response with the late Woodrow "Chubby" Lykes, and Mel Winkleman. It was a call for a young child who had crashed through a glass door at their home on Ford Avenue.

A great deal has happened in the intervening five decades. However, my friends, it is still difficult for me to believe that we are well into the midst of a new century. We survived Y2K and experienced the murderous treachery of the 9/11 tragedy. We have seen many dear friends come and go. Yet the world seems to move forward, through both the good things and the bad things. Like "Old Man River," it just keeps rolling along. 

As a child of the 40s, my thoughts of the 21st Century were always associated with things like Buck Rogers, robots and trips to the moon. So where does that leave us today? We have experienced two of the above things. However, I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet Buck Rogers (except on a Warner Brothers cartoon or a flickering 1940’s series).

So where does this leave us. Let me suggest that my goal in this commentary is to arouse within you the curiosity to see if some of my theories on change really have any validity. It is my hope that you are not expecting a flashy, high-tech approach to doing business in the future. If you are, you will be sadly disappointed. It just does not seem to have worked out that way.

It is our suggestion to you that every tomorrow you will ever face is just one day away from a particularly comfortable today. Time has been and remains one long continuum, with no distinct breaks or artificial junctures, except for those added later by historians, like the Dark Ages; or the Renaissance.

Do you honestly think that people roamed the streets of Europe mumbling about what a “bummer” it was to live in the Dark Ages? Or did people in Italy dance in the streets with the knowledge that they were living during the Renaissance?  That is not how I see history as having played out. .

Regardless of the time and place you might wish to examine, people woke up every morning.  They went off to work.  They came home, had supper, and then went to bed.  This went on day after day and year after year.  People came and people went.  Events both great and small occurred.  But each day led directly into the next. Later on, someone, probably an academic historian, studied their times and then labeled them, for the ease of history.  You and I are still living this out as we move through life.

So here we are in the year 2014. We are still training and responding to emergencies. Such is the way of the world.

Let me suggest that while our times are more complicated than say the 1890’s, the basics remain the same.  In light of this, it is my intention to stress a combination approach to managing your fire departments. Let me suggest that it be geared to challenging conventional change wisdom. It is my intention to suggest that you need to be aware that some things will change. And I want you to work with your fire department to prepare for those changes. But I think that it is critical for you to do so while maintaining solid, palpable contact with some good old fashioned personal values.

Much of what I think and believe will be at odds with the traditional management theorists. It is my firm belief that any new ideas or approaches you plan for your department will have little merit if we ignore the basic human values that made America great. To succeed in the future we must have a firm grasp of the present and never forget the past.

Sounds like a contradiction in terms doesn’t it? Heading into the future with one foot firmly rooted in the past is indicative of some confused thinking at the very least. We’ll see. Regardless of the approach you choose for running your fire department, it is my firm conviction that you must always remember those basic values which have helped to weave the fabric of our lives as Americans. I am a firm believer that these values are going to be crucial to any new way of doing things, even in those cases where a radical change is needed

What then are these values to which I make mention? These are a series of qualities which I have come to call a person’s moral compass. If you are to succeed as a leader (or a follower for that matter) these attributes must become a bedrock part of the way in which you live your life. What are these qualities?

  • Integrity
  • Courage
  • Honesty
  • Pride
  • Determination
  • Faith
  • Forcefulness
  • Good judgment
  • Tact
  • Decisiveness
  • Persistence
  • Initiative
  • High principles
  • The ability to take responsibility
  • Good personal bearing
  • Loyal
  • Reliable
  • Dependable
  • Unselfish
  • Self-disciplined
  • Possess a thirst for knowledge
  • A servant of the troops

It is my hope that I have given you a lot about which to ponder.  It is my intention to discuss each of these in detail over the next couple of weeks.  Like I have said time and again, becoming an effective leader is not an easy job.  You will need to devote a great deal of time to gaining the knowledge and crafting your persona to meet the needs of the leader’s role. Please stay with me.