Company Officer Leadership: Team Building Starts with Us

As company and chief officers, building a successful team starts with us. Just like the coaches and general managers of a sports team, we must work together to build our successful, winning team.

Looking within our departments, we can focus on such practices as succession planning, officer-development school and retention programs aimed at keeping our star pupils. Much like a farm team in baseball, these young members will one day become our all-stars and organizational leaders. We must plan for them, lay out their development paths and groom them into future fire service leaders.

Succession planning can be difficult for many leaders, but it must be done to ensure our organizations have seamless transition periods and continued dedication to the mission and core values. Planning for your replacement can be a hard pill to swallow. Becoming a company or chief officer can inflate our egos and promote overconfidence or superiority issues. Don't allow yourself to get caught in the trap!

I challenge leaders to identify those they trust, respect and believe will do a better job than we're doing now. Those will be your all-stars, your future company and chief officers.

Include these individuals in your budget meetings, apparatus purchase meetings and other important functions that will help them develop. They'll benefit from these experiences, enriching themselves, their career and the department.

If we're in this for the right reason—to advance the fire service and leave it better than we found it—we owe it to the service and ourselves to lay the groundwork for these individuals to become successful.

Officer-development programs are one way we can lay this groundwork. Career guidelines and outside training paths, along with department-specific training, can help our subordinates become better leaders.

Finding the right mix of state and national training courses, college curriculum and interdepartmental training can be a challenge. Take advantage of the National Fire Academy, IAFC conferences, state training offerings and community and online colleges.

Challenge your own department leaders to create training programs. Combined, these offerings will help our farm-league prospects to become all-stars.

How we retain these employees will vary from organization to organization and from person to person. Abraham Maslow speaks about a hierarchy of needs, and there are different theories of behavior for various generations. Find out what motivates each employee and capitalize on it.

Some departments have the luxury of great pay, benefits and working conditions; this may work to retain some employees. Other employees may respond well to a sense of buy-in or belonging that's created when leaders offer them opportunities to excel. These opportunities can come in the form of advanced training, policy development or equipment purchase.

Other employees may flourish when placed in a bigger arena, such as speaking with a council, creating budgets and overseeing divisions of our organization. The key is to find the motivational factors that work for each individual and use them to everyone's advantage.

There will be successes and failures along the way; it's how we learn and grow. Just like our local farm teams, we'll make errors and we'll hit homeruns. As company and chief officers, our job is to coach, build the team with our best players and set the table for them to become the future coaches and general managers of our organization.

We can achieve this by swallowing our pride, empowering our subordinates and creating career paths that allow for their success.

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