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Fire & Life Safety- Leading Your Team to Success

I recently took on a new role with a new department, and I realized most of my leadership training for prevention had been related to how to manage programs. I was lucky with regard to previous leaders I had worked for; they had mentored me and helped me develop leadership skills, guiding me on the best training to seek out. Without their help and guidance, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have today.

We all know that job satisfaction often hinges on the quality of the relationships we have with others. Yet in today’s rapidly evolving, 24/7 workplaces, it’s not always clear what we should do to create the most satisfying work experiences and the happiest team members.

I want to share with you some of the things I’ve learned and some nuggets I’ve gathered along the way. These helpful leadership tips can apply to any fire marshal or fire-prevention team leader, whether that’s someone who has volunteers, career folks or just yourself.

Using these basic tools can help you accomplish many things in our prevention world.

Manage individuals, not teams.

When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to forget that employees are unique individuals, with varying interests, abilities, goals and styles of learning. But it’s important to customize your interactions with them.

Ensure you understand what makes them tick. Be available and accessible for one-on-one conversations. Deliver lessons cued to individual developmental needs. And when it comes to promotion, look past rigid competency models and career ladders for growth opportunities tailored to the ambitions, talents and capacities of each person.

Go big on meaning.

Most employee’s value jobs that let them contribute and make a difference, and many organizations now emphasize meaning and purpose in the hopes of fostering engagement. However, this is also the manager’s responsibility.

You can’t rely on incentives like bonuses, stock options or raises. You have to inspire them with a vision, set challenging goals and pump up their confidence so they believe they can actually win.

Articulate a clear purpose that fires your team up, set expectations high and convey to the group that you think they’re capable of virtually anything.

Focus on feedback.

A survey of managers in the United States found that “only 2% provide ongoing feedback to their employees.” Just 2%!

Many leaders limit themselves to the dreaded performance review and often mingle developmental feedback with discussions about compensation and promotion, rendering the former much less effective. Some organizations are changing their ways, but even if yours sticks with traditional reviews, you can still supplement the reviews with the kind of continuous, personalized feedback that the best leaders employ.

Use regular—at least weekly—one-on-one conversations to give lots of coaching. Make the feedback clear, honest and constructive, and frame it so it promotes independence and initiative.

Don’t just talk; listen!

Employees tend to be happiest when they feel free to contribute new ideas and take initiative, and most managers claim they want people who do just that. So why doesn’t it happen more often?

Usually the problem is that bosses promote their own views too strongly. Employees wonder: “Why bother taking risks with new ideas when my boss’s views are already so fixed?”

The best leaders spend a great deal of time listening. They pose problems and challenges, then ask questions to enlist the entire team in generating solutions. They reward innovation and initiative, and they encourage everyone in the group to do the same.

Be consistent.

Who could be happy with a leader who does one thing one day and another thing the next? It’s hard to feel motivated when the bar is always shifting in unpredictable ways and you never know what to expect or how to get ahead. So be consistent in your management style, vision, expectations, feedback and openness to new ideas. If change becomes necessary, acknowledge it openly and quickly.

No behavior you adopt will guarantee happy employees, but fire marshals—and leaders in all areas—who follow these key practices will find they’re helping to improve well-being, engagement and productivity on any team.

The common denominator is attentiveness. Pay close attention to your team as individuals. Take that extra bit of time to build their confidence and articulate a vision. To provide constant, ongoing, high-quality feedback. And to listen to their ideas as well as ensuring that your own messages are consistent.

Is it hard work? Yes. But it’s worth it.

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