Leadership Lessons: New Year, New Knowledge

Jan. 30, 2024
Dr. David Griffin is adamant about continuing his education and urges you to be, too, including consideration of the Fire Service Executive Development Institute.

As we begin 2024 and focus on goals, I’m hopeful that one that you set professionally is to attend an in-person or virtual continuing education program or conference. Thankfully, there are so many free options for development that we can take at least one class per year that helps to develop our skill set. If shared correctly, it helps organizations progress, too.

With this goal, I want you to take it one step further. When you attend a class or conference, gather notes and handouts to give to members of your organization to whom the information relates. It only takes a few minutes of your time. For me, I simply do this by compiling all of the handouts and then emailing them to our leadership team. The hope is that one of our leaders might find something helpful that can benefit his or her respective division and help with personal growth.

Fire chief development
Now that I have you thinking about continuing education options, I want to highlight one. The Fire Service Executive Development Institute (FSEDI), through the International Association of Fire Chiefs, is funded by a grant from Motorola Solutions Foundation. Retired Fire Chief Mary Beth Michos does an excellent job of running the program and keeping it current.

The FSEDI is the absolute best leadership program that I have taken that’s specific for chief officers who aspire to become a fire chief. It also is for first-year fire chiefs. The program is timely and well organized. Fire chiefs from all over the country teach from their experiences. I am totally blown away by this program.

Its four one-week sessions are spread over a one-year time period. I will attend my fourth session in March.

When the next program convenes, the FSEDI will be in its 12th  year. From my perspective, it improves with each iteration. (To learn more, visit iafc.org/FSEDI.)

I focus on this program because it wasn’t an option that I was familiar with, but, now that I am, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to share it with all of you.

Varied perspectives
The first detail that I noticed about the FSEDI was the in-depth application and interview process. I found this to be beneficial, because it ensures that only those who are serious apply and commit to the program.

Upon selection, when you receive your cohort details, you will notice that the people in the class are diverse in experience, size of department and location. This brings so many different perspectives and ideas.

In my cohort’s first week as a class, we got to know each other both personally and professionally.

One area that I am really interested in improving is how to make the most out of my department’s budget, which is approximately $53 million. Something that was particularly cool: One of the students who was at my group table is from Florida, and the budget that he is responsible for is approximately $679 million. Yes, you read that right: $679 million. Wow!

At another table, I met a deputy chief who is from Colorado who, for most of her professional career, was in the corporate world, focused on communications, and then came into the fire service. The ideas that she has shared with our class has made my fellow cohort members see communications so differently, and the application of her perspective from the corporate world to the public safety world has been so valuable.

At another table, there was a deputy chief from Missouri who has been in his department for more than 30 years. As he put it, he promoted himself to fire chief, and such a great firefighter’s chief at that.

Anyway, my point is that we have great people in this class who I’m grateful to learn from.

Then, there are the topics that we cover.

Growth topics
My cohort has studied some very timely subjects that I believe will assist all of us in our growth as leaders and as people. The topics that we covered in the first one-week session at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, VA, were:
•    Reflections on the Long Days as the Fire Chief.
•    The Benefits of Handwriting.
•    Creating Values.
•    So, You Want to Be Chief?
•    Emotional Intelligence.
•    Executive Presence.
•    Applying for the Position.
•    Ethics for Fire Chiefs.
•    Political Acumen.
•    What Bosses Want from Their Chiefs.
•    Reaching for the Gold.
•    Building Your Executive Team.
•    It’s All About Relationships.
•    Words from the Wise.
Our second meeting convened at Fire-Rescue International, which was held in Kansas City, MO. We were allowed to take as many courses as we could at the conference. We also met as a class with FSEDI graduates. This gave us the opportunity to share our experiences. It was impressive to see how many students from the previous 10 cohorts now are fire chiefs. They all spoke very highly of the program and credited their success to it. I’ve watched many of them in press conferences in highly stressful situations, so it was so cool to meet them and get to see them as people.

We spent the third week back at the National Conference Center. During this time, we studied:
•    Self-Awareness.
•    Credibility.
•    Building Resilient Organizations.
•    Changing Organizational Culture.
•    Storytelling.
•    The First 100 Days as Fire Chief.
•    Experiences of a New Fire Chief from the Outside.
•    Courageous Conversations.
•    Crisis Communications.
•    The Fire Chief and Organizational Health/Safety.
•    The ABCs of Artificial Intelligence.

What leadership is
While we have been being educated on the aforementioned topics by different fire chiefs who serve as instructors for the leadership program, the discussions from the chief officers who are taking the class add so much value from what we take away.

It’s amazing to see how we all have similar challenges but, more importantly, that we all are looking to find solutions. That’s what leadership is. You either can complain about how things are, or you can become a leader to make it better. I say this because when you don’t take the time to learn outside of your own organization, you don’t get a true perspective of the profession and where it’s going. 

Learning from outside of my organization makes me want to learn even more, so I can take lessons back to the department that I love, and I can strive to help make progress with every day that passes.

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