Friday, September 18, 2015

Speak Up

Would you rather die than speak to others? The Seinfeld comedy routine isn't that far off for many wildland firefighters. Many people avoid leadership positions because they don't want to speak in front of others or put their thoughts into the written word. Every level of leadership requires the development of communication skills, including the follower.
Those in the role of a follower have a number of responsibilities: to become competent in basic job skills; to take initiative and learn from others; to ask questions and develop their communication skills. (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 22)
Communication is the primary tool for establishing an effective command climate. The ability to communicate effectively is universally rated as one of the most important leadership behaviors.

Communication is the foundation upon which we build trust and enable our teams to develop cohesion. Effective communication is a two-way process. Good leaders actively listen to build trust with others. Communication enables us to convey objectives and intent, break error chains, and improve situation awareness. Leaders are cognizant of the central role that communication plays in the ability to lead and always strive to become better communicators.

Five Communications Responsibilities
Fire leaders work to instill the Five Communications Responsibilities in the culture of all crews, teams, and units. These responsibilities are not just tactical tools but apply to the staff and management environment.

In high risk environments, the best level of protection against errors and accidents is effective team communication. Therefore, everyone—regardless of position—has an obligation to communicate critical information.

Fire leaders redeem the Five Communications Responsibilities to enable everyone at all levels to develop good communications practices.

Five Communications Responsibilities
  • Brief—use briefings to ensure accurate situation awareness.
  • Debrief—use After Action Reviews to build accountability and learn from experience.
  • Acknowledge and understand messages—acknowledge and ensure clarity of received communications on conditions, assigned tasks, intent, and other important information.
  • Communicate hazards to others—use hazard identification, a key component of risk management, to identify personal, tactical, situational, political, or organizational hazards. Good leaders ensure that team members are vigilant for hazards and communicate identified hazards effectively.
  • Ask if you don’t know—guard against making false assumptions when the picture is not clear.
[Information taken from Leading in the Wildland Fire Service.]

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper

  • Provide opportunities for all members of the team to practice their communication skills--both oral and written. 
    • Rotate briefings, tailgate sessions, or after action reviews.
    • Host book or movie discussions with different group leaders. 
    • Participate in mock situations and require members of the team to interact with various stakeholders and managers.
    • Take the initiative to develop your communication skills outside the workplace.

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