Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Permission to Act

Green light
(Photo credit: Jupiter Images)
I am 100% on board with the concept of SOP’s and SOG’s, so please don’t misinterpret this message. I also believe that in the absence of rules, people make their own. In a structured and dangerous profession like ours it’s important to have rules, regulations, policies and procedures. It's equally important that we train on our procedures and create muscle memory so that we can improve our chances of success and reduce the amount of unnecessary decisions that will need to be made on the fireground. That said, I find it a bit concerning that some organizations have chosen to replace high-quality training with words on paper.

Recently, I posted the following quote on my Step Up and Lead facebook page, “People will rise or fall to meet your level of expectations for them.” One gentleman by the name of Darrell Nichols shared that quote and posed the following question to readers: How does (this quote) apply to you and your department? Are you developing SOG’s to be proactive or to replace judgment and decision making? Firegrounds are a fluid environment which require decisions to be made according to the situation at hand. Trying to put "all" actions in written detail will over time weaken the thinking and reasoning.

Darrell’s remarks make complete sense to me. Again, we all need to do a better job of providing good, quality, consistent training programs and educating our members. We need to mentor and develop the younger firefighters and upcoming officers and prepare them to do the job correctly on and off the fire ground. We also need to support them by letting them make decisions, because you will not be able to write an SOP for every decision that will have to be made. The only way for people to develop the qualities of a leader is to take action when necessary.

I am also 100% on board with the concept of mission statements. We all need to know what our organization stands for and how we want to be perceived by the general public – our customers. It’s important, though, to remember that 90% or the leadership comes not from the top, but from the middle of an organization – the people in the field who are making the decisions and solving the problems. My point is, it’s important to have a mission statement, but it’s equally important that organizational leaders have a “permission statement”, which means they give their members permission to act.

A leader who thinks he or she is smarter and more talented than all the other members of their team combined has a weak team. That person needs to stop making decisions based off fear, greed and ego and focus on developing the skills of others which can only be accomplished through training, education, and support from the top.

When your members take action, do you look for what they did right and compliment them on it, or do you only focus on what they are doing wrong? If you constantly criticize, condemn and complain about their actions, perhaps you should look for the root cause of their perceived failures. Yes, they may be incompetent, but that’s not always the problem. In fact, it’s rare for an entire team to be incompetent. Any time I have come across that situation, it was usually a problem that stemmed from the top. Every now and then I come across a person in a leadership positions who spends the majority of his or her time and energy criticizing and disciplining others. Discipline is not a motivator. People who ONLY focus on the bad and never talk about the good their team members do always create the adverse effect of making people reluctant to act because they feel that every decision they make will be wrong. As a result, they don’t make any decisions. In our business, we cannot afford to create that type of working environment.

If you are guilty of this, I would like to encourage you to take a different approach. Focus your time and energy on developing your people into leaders. This begins with developing your Policies and SOP's and training on them as mentioned earlier, but it goes beyond that. You have to trust and believe in them and focus on finding creative ways to provide them with the training that will help develop their problem-solving abilities. Don't ever forget, people will rise or fall to meet your level of expectations for them.

A special thanks to Frank Viscuso for granting permission to reprint. Posted on the Fire Engineering Blog by Frank Viscuso on January 26, 2015.

Frank Viscuso is a career deputy chief, nationally recognized speaker, and author of six books, including best-seller Step Up and Lead (PennWell, 2011) and his soon-to-be released follow-up book Step Up Your Teamwork. Frank is also co-creator of FireOpsOnline.com, a website that provides valuable free training, drills, and tips for firefighters who are serious about advancing their career. (Taken from the Common Valor website.)

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