I have a plethora of mentors. Some men. Some women. So many who have taught me so much.
Recently, over a bowl of cheesy French onion soup, I queried one of my favorite woman mentors, “what helped you make it in a man’s world?” “My father told me I could do whatever I wanted to do,” she quipped. We laughed as I shared that my dad told me the exact same thing! This woman has much to teach me, and I listen hard.
For years, I have been trying to figure out how it is that I work so much better in a man’s world versus a woman’s world. A couple of years ago, I joined a local women’s group to try to learn how to work with women better.
They study me from side angles and uncertain distances. They are not sure of what to think of this firewoman in a white shirt. We are still trying to figure each other out.
Although I am still in the depths of this personal, casual research project, it seems to me that, in the end, we are all human beings. We strive to make our lives better. We want to get along with each other and find it incredibly frustrating that everyone doesn’t see the world through the same set of lenses. We crave happiness and, although we don’t care to admit it, we enjoy controversy. We want to win. We love to compete. And there are no better playing grounds for this sport than the fire ground.
Man or woman, I think we would all improve by enhancing our skills of listening. This lost art provides all kinds of opportunities for everyone to get along better. Listening is undoubtedly one of the more difficult disciplines – right up there with managing an incident, engineering a pump, or humping hoseline into a live-fire – the skill of listening is underrated, and a leadership topic rarely mentioned.
Next time you have the opportunity to be in a conversation, try it. Make yourself shut up and listen. I mean, really listen. Don’t look at your phone (even when it dings), turn your pager off, and listen. Close the door, make good eye contact, ask questions when you don’t understand, and whatever you do, do not turn the conversation into one that is about yourself. Listen. With practice, you will get better, and you will learn so much more. You will learn more about the one you are listening to, and you will learn more about yourself.
So, here is my advice: Whether you are a man or a woman – young or old – like good dads say, you can do whatever you want to do. Repeat after me, “I can do whatever I want to do.” Grab that concept by the reins and hold on! Once you start listening, you are going to find your calling, and it will be an awesome ride getting there!
Chief Kathy Clay is chief of the Jackson Hole Fire/EMS (Wyoming) department. She holds an IAFC and Missouri Valley Division membership and sits on the Wyoming Governor’s Council on Fire Prevention. She also represents the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) on the Vision 20/20 Steering Committee, and is a former IAWF board member. Clay is the Fire Investigator for Teton County (Wyoming) and is a member of the International Association of Arson Investigators.