Who do you follow?

Aggressive Firefighter

The Fundamentals

#1 Put Water on the Fire

#2 Take Tools and Use Them

#3 Do the Unglamourous Work

#4 Operate from the Combat Position

#5 Finish the Task

The Sunday Sermon

The importance of being both a great leader and a great follower cannot be over emphasized.  In the fire service, we are experiencing a renaissance of empowered firefighters desperately seeking to learn and grow. Social media is driving education, knowledge, thought and research through the channels of fire departments around the globe. Information arrives at all levels of the fire service, from the recruit, to the old salt at the same time without a filter or context.  The dangers of this truth are immense and for the bureaucracy unstoppable, uncontrollable and intolerable. However, the energy produced by this truth is powerful, passionate, and persistent.  A workforce motivated by the work itself!  A manager’s wet dream.  Gone are the days of motivation manipulations of participation ribbons, trophies, and false accolades to entice firefighters to engage in the job and the department. Enter the age of the fire service where the firefighter’s internal drive dominates the often-negative external forces of bureaucratic driven departments and stagnate crews more attached to their recliners than their ability to perform.  The adhocracy has arrived in the fire service.

Adhocracy- Robert H. Waterman, Jr. defined adhocracy as “any form of organization that cuts across normal bureaucratic lines to capture opportunities, solve problems, and get results”.[3] For Henry Mintzberg, an adhocracy is a complex and dynamic organizational form.[4] It is different from bureaucracy; like Toffler, Mintzberg considers bureaucracy a thing of the past, and adhocracy one of the future.[5] When done well, adhocracy can be very good at problem solving and innovations[5] and thrives in a diverse environment.[4] It requires sophisticated and often automated technical systems to develop and thrive.[5] -see Wikipedia

As leaders in the fire service, how do we capitalize on this concept.  First, we need to follow.  All great leaders, are great followers, and respect authority. A leader is comfortable around authority and is capable of challenging authority figures with correct motives and accountability.  The question is not, do we follow a leader, mentor, or guide, but who do we follow?

Second, identify who we are following. We can follow the majority, we can follow the loudest or we can follow the truth.  The majority, on a macro level, is the latest 51% of the information shared. The majority can be the truth, but it is often just the loudest. The majority, on a micro level, are our peers, crew, and department personnel. This majority can be the truth, but it is often just the easiest.  We can follow the loudest. We can find those who spout harsh criticism, passionate pleas, emotional rhetoric and divisive speech. These loud individuals will have a following. These individuals may be speaking the truth. However, does not truth stand on its own merit?  When does a true leader that speaks the truth EVER crush the innocent, ignorant, and ill-informed.

Third, what is truth? A 2000-year-old question. Truth is the singular correct answer to a given set of circumstances. In the fire service how do we find the truth, so we can follow those speaking it? We harness the power of the adhocracy. If the water is going to boil from the bottom, then we need to focus on the heat source and where it is being applied. One of the principles of a HRO (High Reliability Organization) is to “Defer to Expertise” regardless of the age, rank or experience of the “expert.”  Are we strong enough leaders to follow an expert young firefighter or humble enough to listen to the old salty dog?

“All truth passes through three stages: First it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed and third it is accepted as being self-evident.” -unknown

Our path should be to aggressively pursue truth. Develop systems in ourselves and our crews to allow for truth to be brought forward. Have courage to test ideas, concepts, and practices to keep the truths that work and dispel false claims of purpose and functionality. If we are the titled leaders in our organizations embrace adhocracy and harness the current flow of passion and information into the fire service. Finally, become brutally honest with ourselves. Who do we follow? Are they the mouth pieces for the majority, the loudest or those who speak the truth?


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