The Many Tests of a Firefighter Leader
By Chief John Conyn
What test have you gone through lately? Are you trying to gain rank or study for the next cert? Yes, those are tests, but there are many other types of tests we face on a daily basis. To do the right thing when no one is looking, to stay quiet to protect the information entrusted to you, all while dealing with people who may undermine your spirit for the job.
As a fire service officer, you’ll encounter many tests that don’t have such clear answers. You will be the key to turning on or off others’ ideas and enthusiasm for the fire service. You will encounter those who disagree with you or challenge your authority or wear away at your patience or confidence. You will have to remember that their slings and arrows are not personal but rather reflect a level of frustration that they are dealing with.
We face tests every moment of every day.
How can you channel your response to reflect what you hold dear and show respect for others greater than what’s being thrown your way? As leaders, it is our responsibility to act in a manner that’s above board and ensure our actions reflect our values and the organization that we lead.
Can you do this alone? Yes and no.
President Abraham Lincoln wrote hot letters where he scorched the earth of whatever the topic might be. Then he let the letter stand on his desk for a night. The next day he would read it and make better adjustments as he saw fit. By doing this, he reduced the risk that he’d send something he would regret and could give his true response once he had time to calm down, think more clearly, and gain more perspective on the matter and the words he wanted to use.
We are not President Lincoln, and I’m sure we can all think of times temper got the better of us. So reach out and don’t go through tests like this alone. Have a trusted group around you that can offer you suggestions and alternative perspectives. This might be an HR team, fellow officers, or a different type of support structure offered by your department or city administration.
Also, think about how your role has changed since you became a leader in your organization. Our actions or the perception of our actions are all up for question. Do you still act like you’re “one of the guys” or are you wanting to share in the latest gossip? Do you show or appear to show favoritism for those you came up with versus some of the newer members of the crew? We need to be cognizant that our choices will directly impact whether the rank-and-file respects us as leaders.
How we hold ourselves and how we behave as leaders is an ongoing test.
Your biggest test of all is that every day you hold the title of leader. How do we study for this? We seek out teachers or advisors that can show insight into the topic in question. Know you can reach out and not go it alone. Use your HR department, your trust group, or other city staff to help you.
Here is one more thought. Who do you see in the mirror? What changes do you want to see in this person? Or are you content that the reflection you see is the same one shown to others?
Tests as a leader in today’s fire service will always happen. Take a breath, and find your friend or confidant. Try not to walk this path alone and reach out if you feel backed into a corner.
As firefighters, we prepare ourselves with many different skills to render help and aid to others. As leaders, we need to practice this too. Know that you will face many tests and be prepared for how to productively, reasonably, and effectively respond.
As leaders wanting to build other leaders, we can all be mentors for the next generation. Let’s help them be prepared for the tests that they will face in their fire service journey. After all, this is not your station or their station but OUR station for those that need us.
Remember why you came through the station doors today and every day.
John Conyn, CFO, is fire chief of the Spencer (IA) Fire Department and a member of the National Volunteer Fire Council.
Photo by Firedogphotos
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