Would you work for you?
This is a great question for all fire service leaders and future leaders. For a moment though, really think about this. Could you work for you? Try to envision being your own leader. Would you respond well to your communication style? Would you react favorably to your own leadership?
Don’t think these are important questions? Think again.
Forbes magazine recently identified that people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers. And that sentiment couldn’t be more true. We’ve all had terrible officers. It’s a touchy subject from the bottom up, which is exactly why fire service leaders should regularly audit themselves. There is no better indicator of how you are doing as a leader than a view from the bottom up.
Successful leadership is not always something you can teach; it’s mostly a social finesse that originates in your character as a human being and your ability to communicate with others. Some people have the ability and execute leadership effortlessly, while others struggle to maintain positive leadership behaviors and relationships with their subordinates. Even successful leaders will sometimes have at least one individual they have difficulty meshing with.
It’s important to reflect on a few questions: Do you jump immediately to negative conclusions or are you constructively supportive? Do you look for someone to blame or do you correct the system so that mistakes don’t reoccur? Do you punish the entire shift for the mistakes of one person or do you mentor individuals? Do you show favoritism without realizing it?
Profession development should be an important part of being a leader. Successful leaders need to be diligent in passing along positive professional skills and likewise, junior level officers should always be eager to absorb the leadership nuggets provided by their superiors.
Feedback Tools: Utilizing a system similar to the annual performance appraisal only reversing the flow of information. Have your firefighters appraise your performance as their leader. It’s important for this
process to remain as anonymous as possible. It’d be an awful position for a firefighter, knowing he needs to communicate something constructive, if he knows it’s not anonymous. One resource that works well is creating a Survey Monkey or Google Survey. They’re free. Giving your firefighters the opportunity to provide you with valuable information about how you can lead them better is feedback gold. As long as everyone takes it seriously. We’ve all been in a position where we WISH we could professionally develop our leaders to be better bosses, the survey gives everyone that opportunity. You might be surprised by what you learn.
Record your communications. I know it sounds too far, but honestly. Record your counseling sessions, mentoring moments, training moments. Watch or listen to them later. Try being completely objective. Pay attention to the tone of your voice, how your sentences are formed, and the manner in which you communicate with others. You might discover things such as passive aggressiveness, cussing, a judging tone, not allowing the other person to communicate their side, positive and or negative trajectories. By positive and negative trajectories I mean, are you yelling at someone who made a mistake and then kicked them out of your office vs. using the mistake as a learning moment to further develop the firefighter. Obviously, one trajectory is negative and the other is positive.
Aside from personal audits and feedback tools it’s incredibly important to exercise regular self-reflection as well as developing a healthy sense of self-awareness. Creating a sense of self-awareness and an awareness of how you are communicating with others takes a measurable amount of emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence is the passcode to both personal and professional success. We all have different personalities, differing expectations, and different ways of communicating. It’s nearly impossible for different individuals to provide the same set of leadership abilities. But we can all learn to develop our emotional intelligence to become less reactionary, more calculated, even tempered, and thought-provoking. Emotional intelligence is a measurable trait. Individuals with a lesser amount of emotional intelligence tend to use anger as a go-to emotion when something doesn’t go right and they also tend to be happy for the wrong reasons. In the next part of this series we’ll dive into emotional intelligence.
In the meantime, we’re attempting to collect data addressing a whole host of firefighter related challenges. Please consider completing short survey so we can conduct one of the largest firefighter studies of it’s kind in the United States. Please share with your crews.
Read more in the Thoughtful Leadership Series