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Executive Officer Leadership: Opportunity Missed!

The young man stepped up to the microphone in the big room. The discussions had been across the spectrum but now focused on higher-education requirements in the fire service. A small, select group of veteran chief officers sat before the large crowd, fielding questions as they wrapped up their session.

The young man said he was new to the fire service and had recently completed a master’s degree in psychology; his question for the group was on how he could find a mentor to help him be successful.

This is where it went off track! One of the chief officers chuckled and said, “With a master’s degree?”

There were many in the room that followed with more laughter. What an opportunity missed!

Do we feel threatened?

There’s an old saying: “We should leave the organization better than we found it.”

How can we accomplish that if we don’t seek out a younger generation that comes in the door prepared to take the organization to that next level? We should be encouraging the next generation and serve as mentors about what we currently do, hoping they’ll improve on that. Maybe even find new ways to perform tasks and develop new techniques to truly better the organization.

That young man before the chief officers knew he required additional guidance to be the best he could be, and he was seeking that next opportunity—a mentor.

Yes, he had spent the last six years of his life in school obtaining a graduate degree, but now he needed direction within the fire and emergency service. What we didn’t do was recognize and champion that.

Are we worried that someone such as him may make us look bad? The laughter in the room makes me wonder.

Many new firefighters have degrees when they come on the job and already hold knowledge. we must teach them the skills and ability they’ll need in this job, and we must be open to the possibility that this next wave of members may be able to teach us something along the way.

We should always cultivate creativity and support new members while we consistently teach the TEAM mentality in recruit school.

Area for Improvement

When we don’t take a positive approach to developing our members and inspiring personal individual growth, we are not moving our organizations forward, but rather, we’re doing them a disservice. Our members are our most valuable asset and it’s up to us, the senior leadership, to ensure that this development and inspiration is happening and should never let these take a back seat.

I’m not talking about another certification or continuing-education course, but about seeking out new means of personal development. Members must evaluate where they are in their lives, both at home and at work, and then establish purpose and direction. If this can be encouraged across the department and members begin to formulate action plans, the organization will succeed and improve. With this comes helping and developing others as well.

Now let’s go back to that young man’s question. Imagine if the chief’s answer had been, “There are many here today in this room who would be happy to help you. In fact, who in the room is willing to help this young firefighter? Please raise your hand!”

I believe that chief would have left that room better than he had found it!


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