Monday, February 28, 2011

The Power of Positive Feedback

All too often, managers consider monetary or material rewards the only means of giving positive feedback. A wildland fire leader has a duty to develop their subordinates for the future. Leaders are encouraged to "use positive feedback to modify duties, tasks and assignments when appropriate." The following example demonstrates this principle:

He Made Him Captain*
by Ron White

One of my best friends coached a group of 13-year-old boys in soccer a while back. He saw some leadership potential in one of the boys, but he also saw some disturbing qualities. My friend approached the boy and told him that he thought he could be captain of the team but he wanted to see changes in some of his behaviors. Almost overnight, the boy stopped his whining and complaining. He became responsible and an effective leader. Eventually, he became the captain of the soccer team and parents who have known this kid for years asked my friend what he did to transform him.

My friend didn’t do anything other than tell someone that he believed in him and thought he could do better. When was the last time you told someone that you believed in them? You can criticize until the cows come home. However, if you want to see lasting change, find the positives in a person and reinforce those. When you do, those qualities will grow and overshadow the less desirable qualities. For an overnight transformation, find positives and make them captain!

Secrets of Positive Feedback

Douglas Conant provides insight into positive feedback in his HBR blog post "Secrets of Positive Feedback." He lists three rules for building appreciation:
  1. Make a personal connection early on. Establish trust.
  2. Look for opportunities to celebrate. Can your organization for those who make a difference.
  3. Get out your pen. Take the time send handwritten notes.
*Reproduced with permission from the Ron White Newsletter. To subscribe to Ron White's Newsletter, go to Copyright 2011. All rights reserved worldwide.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"The Ten Rules of Good Followership"

Col Phillip S. Meilinger, United States Air Force and dean of the School of Advanced Airpower Studies at Air Univeristy, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, shares his Ten Rules of Good Followership in an article prepared especially for Concepts for Air Force Leadership. His rules are listed here, but one should read the full article to receive the complete message. Don't blame your boss for an unpopular decision or policy; your job is to support, not undermine.
  1. Fight with your boss if necessary; but do it in private, avoid embarrassing situations, and never reveal to others what was discussed.

  2. Make the decision, then run it past the boss; use your initiative.

  3. Accept responsibility whenever it is offered.

  4. Tell the truth and don't quibble; your boss will be giving advice up the chain of command based on what you said.

  5. Do your homework; give your boss all the information needed to make a decision; anticipate possible questions.

  6. When making a recommendation, remember who will probably have to implement it. This means you must know your own limitations and weaknesses as well as your strengths.

  7. Keep your boss informed of what's going on in the unit; people will be reluctant to tell him or her their problems and successes. You should do it for them, and assume someone else will tell the boss about yours.

  8. If you see a problem, fix it. Don't worry about who would have gotten the blame or who now gets the praise.

  9. Put in more than an honest day's work, but don't ever forget the needs of your family. if they are unhappy, you will be too, and your job performance will suffer accordingly.

This is a repost with edits from June 18, 2010, and yet another transitition from the About Leadership tool in the Leadership Toolbox.

Monday, February 21, 2011

SDFD Leads the Way

Over the last few years, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) has taken the lead in promoting cultural change at the first-line leadership level. Bringing about a cultural change is difficult, but SDFD felt they had no choice as they faced the largest turnover of their force since its inception.

In August 2008, William Middleton wrote "Leadership Starts with an 'L'" (FireRescue Magazine, August 2008). In it, Middleton talks about San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's efforts to incorporate the L-curriculum into their leadership development program.

In April 2010, SDFD Assistant Chief and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee Representative Brian Fennessy followed up with "In Search of Cultural Change" (FireRescue Magazine, April 2010). Chief Fennessy writes about the challenges SDFD faced as well as the fruits of their efforts to bring about cultural change and the effect those efforts have had on the nation with regard to developing first-line fire leaders.

Read for yourself the impacts of the L-curriculum has had on local fire departments and what potential exists to a national cultural change in fire service leadership.

This is a repost from August 16, 2010, and is the final items transitioned from the About Leadership tool in the Leadership Toolbox.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Using Your Voice

"Every individual has the right and obligation to report safety problems and contribute ideas regarding their safety. Supervisors are expected to give these concerns and ideas serious consideration." (IRPG, p. 17)
In "Are You a Rebel or a Leader?" Nilofer Merchant blogs about a person's courage to raise tough issues. She writes of an organization that does not look down upon the person who rebels against the norm but instead institutes systems and rewards inside the organization that demands leadership from employees she refers to as protagonists--"principal champions of a cause or program or action."

According to Merchant, the protagonist "does not wait for permission to lead, innovate, or strategize. They do what is right for the firm, without regard to status. Their goal is to do what's good for the whole."

She contrasts this to the rebel who resists conformity.
  • To rebel is to push against something. To lead is to advocate for an idea.
  • To rebel is to say "heck no." To lead is to say "we will."
  • To rebel is to deny the authority of others. To lead is to invoke your own authority.
As wildland firefighters, we have a responsibility to communicate. The Incident Response Pocket Guide, p. ix, lists five communication responsibilities:
  • Brief others as needed.
  • Debrief your actions.
  • Communicate hazards to others.
  • Acknowledge messages.
  • Ask if you don't know.

Within LCES, firefighters should ensure the following:

  • Radio frequencies confirmed.
  • Backup procedures and check-in times established.
  • Provide updates on any situation change.
  • Sound alarm early, not late.
Most importantly, every wildland firefighter must know "How to Refuse Risk" which is found on page 17 of the IRPG.

Take the time to review these reponsibilities with your subordinates. The life you save may be your own.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership"

One of our About Leadership links was a Time article by Richard Stengel called "Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership." Nelson Mandela "overthrew apartheid and created a nonracial democratic South Africa by knowing precisely when and how to transition between his roles as warrior, martyr, diplomat and statesman."

Stengel presents what he calls "Madiba's rules" (Madiba is Mandela's clan name):
  1. Courage is not the absence of fear--it's inspiring others to move beyond it.
  2. Lead from the front--but don't leave your base behind.
  3. Lead from the back--and let others believe they are in front.
  4. Know your enemy--and learn about his favorit sport.
  5. Keep your friends close--and your rivals even closer.
  6. Appearances matter--and remember to smile.
  7. Nothing is black or white.
  8. Quitting is leading too.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"John Wooden on True Success"

Our next transition from the About Leadership tool in the Leadership Toolbox features one of the most visited topics in the blog: the leadership of John Wooden, one of the greatest coaching leaders of all times. Previous entries included:
This blog entry showcases an interview with Wooden on the website where Coach, as he is affectionately called by is players, "redefines success and urges us all to pursue the best in ourselves" in "John Wooden on True Success."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Food for Thought

Bill Miller, advisor on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, poses this thought and encourages readers to respond. . .

I believe that it takes truly exceptional Management (big M) to enable and pursue leadership within its ranks. This is not because Management (big M) is evil or "malintent" toward the people but because true leadership is visionary--sometimes revolutionary--and so often perceived as a threat to the maintenance of the status quo; and maintenance of the status quo is Management (big M)...

If for a moment, we were able to disconnect from the precepts that management personified were good or evil or leadership personified were the same and we were able to look at things simply as they were--that each has a vested interest, a dog in the fight--we would be able to move beyond judgement and sentencing and see things as they are: self awareness at another level, to operate more effectively, less defensively, on behalf of growth.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Engine Captain's Attention to Details

For some, 1984 may seem like a long time ago; but my memories of beginning my career in wildland fire began that summer on a BLM district in South Central Idaho where engines ruled supreme. I recall one engine captain (crew boss during those days) whose attention to detail was exemplary. Fred's engine was immaculate, his recordkeeping for his engine and crew thorough, and his leadership strong. He set the example of what right looks like to be a BLM engine leader.

In "The Little Things," an article written for Wildfire, Steve Fraidenburg addresses leadership for the engine captain. He says, "For newly instated engine captains, wildland firefighting requires attention to detail and a regard for experience--both yours and your crew's." Steve's perspective is insightful and a must read for engine leaders.

For over 10 years I've had the privilege to work with Al Olson, BLM Fire Training Unit and Project Leader for the BLM Engine Operator course, and numerous BLM engine leaders across the nation. Their commitment to the Engine Operator course is a testament to ensuring that an attention to detail becomes second nature to engine operators.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dr. Robert McTeer on Leadership

In yet another installment as we transition items from the About Leadership tool in the Leadership Toolbox to the blog, Dr. Bob McTeer weighs in on leadership during a speech to participants in the Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership program. In his speech titled "Leadership and the Head Butt Felt around the World" McTeer discusses the differences between managers and leaders and the concept of a natural leader.

McTeer suggests the following things that unnatural leaders can learn to make them more effective:
  • Optimism trumps pessimism. Have you ever seen a statue of a pessimist?
  • Go to the scene of any crisis. You might be more effective manning the phones back at headquarters, but the folks want to see you walking in the rubble.
  • If you are the mayor on vacation in the tropics, and a snow storm hits your city, take the first plane back.
  • Don’t expect people to do what you say and not what you do.
  • Walking your talk is more important that talking your walk.
  • Be action oriented.
  • Show some courage if needed. To do that you need some liquid savings to think of as your go-to-hell money. Or have a farm in Australia. As in, "Well, there’s always the farm in Australia . . ."