Executive Officer Leadership: Tipping Over

Having grown up as a kid in the 1980s, I still reflect back to the movie The Karate Kid, where Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel how to balance on the bow of the boat and maintain the best position possible to not get knocked over. In the movie, as Daniel becomes more proficient at achieving his balance, Mr. Miyagi begins to rock the boat, which eventually makes Daniel fall into the water. The importance of maintaining balance for karate is reinforced to Daniel in this lesson, but later he understood this in a holistic perspective for life.

Many times, the life of an on-call/volunteer firefighter becomes a similar balancing act. The obligations and commitments of the men and women in the fire service can become overwhelming at times. In addition to their responsibilities at their respective fire departments, they have other time constraints from their primary jobs, significant others, children, family, friends, hobbies, continuing education, religious activities and military duties.

For many firefighters, the challenges and pressures to maintain this work/life balance can contribute to low morale, poor performance, emotional crises or even leaving the organization altogether.

Leaders in on-call/volunteer organizations need to understand these outside influences, challenges and time constraints placed on their personnel. It’s understood that recruitment and retention of personnel continues to be a primary focus for many organizations. Providing an environment to help these firefighters succeed could help overcome some of these recruitment and retention challenges.

A high priority should be to establish, create and maintain an organizational culture that recognizes the importance of family and the health and wellness of the individual. Department programs should provide the flexibility, versatility and convenience to meet their organizational responsibilities but allow time for other activities and interests. All members should be encouraged to stay engaged in their outside interests and responsibilities. This makes them no less accountable for their organizational responsibilities, but it establishes an understanding of support and commitment from department leadership.

Individuals still need to use caution and not overextend themselves by taking on too many tasks they may not be able to complete. Doing less but doing things really well can provide increased satisfaction and greater organizational value. It’s important to embrace and nurture organizational teamwork that can enhance everyone’s ability to balance all of life’s challenges.

As individuals, we need to understand our own personal limitations and not exceed our capabilities. Determining your balance point so you don’t tip over will be critical to your organizational success and individual health. Don’t have any regrets, wishing you spent more time with family, friends or favorite activities. Find the work/life balance that grounds you to your individual core values and that will keep you from falling off the boat when it begins to rock.


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