Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Role, Role, Role Your Career and See Where You Will Go...

Ha! I bet you thought I meant to say, "Row, row, row your boat." right? Fooled you! I didn't. I actually meant it the way I wrote it. Why?

Think of it this way. When we decide to be a firefighter, no matter if we choose firefighting as a career, as a volunteer or as a combination of the two, on-call, we begin a new career for ourselves. If firefighting will be your profession, then you want to make the best of it. If it is to be an avocation, well maybe advancement may not be a concern. Perhaps you want to be the best firefighter you can.

That entire picture and its focus change if you have a desire to advance your career. Advance? Simply put, not being a black helmet for your entire experience in the fire service. Most departments have helmets of other colors to denote rank, often red infers a line officer, white, a chief officer, and other colors for specialty personnel. However, no matter the color of the helmet, each one requires a significant amount of both effort and ability to gain a new piece of the "fire rainbow." 

I only spent eight years in active service, four in the Greensboro NC area in both fire and EMS work, plus another four years in the Syracuse NY area. I didn't run for an officer's rank for two reasons. First was because I was unsure if my full-time job that often cost me 60-80 hours per week, would impede on my ability to the the job often enough and adequately. Second was due to the fact that officers were elected. Just because I had a good time with a guy who was funny, had more years in than me, and was popular with the ladies, didn't necessarily mean that I wanted to go through that door into that flaming hallways with him telling me what to do.

Instead, I watched my officers and chiefs. Plus, my own job required me to develop strong leadership skills. And thankfully, I was able to convince my employers to send me to various seminars where I could learn even more. Whatever I absorbed from the seminars, I brought back with me to assist me in improving my job performance. My employers deserved that!

For example, on one occasion, my employer, (a non-profit organization) sent me to a fund-raising seminar in New York. The first day was amazing with methods, advice, ideas, etc., not for my employer, but for my fire department. The second day was very weak, so I left the meeting and headed over to the nearest FDNY firehouse, where I was invited to lunch and to ride on a couple of calls with the BC in the house.

Upon my return a made a full report to the executive committee of my employer. As expected, they blew it off as too simple or too "pedestrian" for them. Instead, I took it with me and presented it at the next department business meeting. Up until that time, our fundraising efforts were very weak, but several of these ideas caught some good attention. A couple of months later, we began our first ever, direct-mail fundraiser. In three weeks time, we collected over $17,000 in donations. Suddenly, I was a "hero" and popular. Did that qualify me to become elected a lieutenant? I don't think so. In 1983, that was like hitting the state lottery! We did it again the following year and almost doubled the amount and my understanding is that they do it every year.

Since I left active service due to an injury back in 1985, I never left the fire service or let it leave me. I constantly read industry magazines. I'd visit firehouses wherever I lived and wherever I visited. The fire service is as much a part of me as is my religious faith. Moreover, my vocation required me to learn and gain more leadership skills. And through that effort, I learned a lot more about myself.

I learned that when reacting to an unexpected situation, there was no need to "shoot from the hip." Instead, I learned to gather as much information as possible, digest it, and develop a proper, well-thought out response. I learned that being the loudest voice in the room did not make me a leader. I learned that being the largest "presence" (psychologically and/or physically) did not make me a leader. I learned that letting my anger loose before I had considered all the facts, didn't make me a leader.

So, what did I find did make me a leader. Being knowledgeable, calm and able to communicate instructions or directions to all made me a better leader. I learned that asking people to perform a task instead of ordering them to perform the very same task, made me a better leader. Not only that, these traits also made me a better person, a better husband and father. 

More importantly, after I became disabled in 1992 at the tender age of forty, I had to deal with a my life being turned upside down. And it occurred just two months after purchasing our dream home. Now what would I do? The answer was right in front me. My daughters were young and in school. And once I recovered from my surgery, I involved myself in their lives, driving them to school, from elementary through high school. I found part-time jobs that interested me. 

I will not lie to you and say that it was all peaches and cream. It wasn't. I drifted into some very dark places in my head. Here I went from earning an almost six-figure income to existing on a private disability policy and my wife's income from working four different teaching jobs. I wasn't the man I wanted to be. I wasn't the man I thought they wanted me to be. 

Thankfully, I had good friends. Not mere acquaintances, but real, true friends. They helped me through the rough times. And they taught me even more about being a good leader. That was that I didn't have to shoulder my burdens all by myself. I had people who were ready, willing and able to assist me. I also learned that no matter my physical condition on any given day, I should try to improve something about myself every day. For no matter how much we want to or how hard we try, we can never, ever re-gain time we have lost or wasted. It's gone. That's it! 

Now, it's your turn. Do you want to be a leader; a strong, influential, and well-respected leader? If so, know that if you really want to do it, you can and you will. Just follow the best path to get there. Be the leader that you would want to follow. 

And #StaySafe!


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