How Firefighting Leaders Maintain Focus on Organizational Success

July 17, 2015

firefighting leaders lessons

To say that all leaders – and not just firefighting leaders – need to keep everyone focused on success is fairly straight forward and obvious. The question is: How can all leaders ensure that everyone within their organization is focused on the right success?

Don’t Blame the Management – Blame the Leadership

We have all experienced poor customer service from untrained, uninformed, or unmotivated workers. From the customer’s perspective this can be exasperating, to say the least. For the unwitting business owners and stakeholders, the worst-case scenario is when the unhappy customer takes their business elsewhere, never to return.

Is there a chance that this sort of customer experience is happening right now in your business? When these sorts of things occur, many tend to overlook the individual employees and heap most of the blame on management. My experience tells me to stop blaming the management and start blaming leadership.

Fire-Tested and Business-Proven: Leadership Principles with Influence

Having spent 25 years working in the fire service – mostly in leadership positions as captain and battalion chief – I learned that things, budgets, and time are meant to be managed. However, when it comes to people, they do not want to be managed. To the contrary, they crave and appreciate leaders who define success and always show the way forward. People are always more successful when they have managers who know how to lead.

When people know what is important to their leaders. they can make the right decisions, especially in difficult situations. So whether the focus is on saving lives and protecting property from destruction or on making a profit instead of a loss: Influential leaders always maintain the collective focus on success.

Three Key Principles Focused on the Right Success

Firefighting leaders rely on three key principles that serve to define the right success. Something as simple as organizational mission, vision, and values are nothing new and most organizations have them. The problem for many organizations is that their mission-vision-values statements are not part of the culture, thus they hold no influence or power.

People within these organizations may make decisions based upon personal success – not organizational success. It takes influential leaders to develop and promote the importance of these guiding philosophies in order to provide focus on the success which is critically important to the organization.

1. Mission to Motivation

Firefighters are motivated by a mission statement “to save lives and protect property,” as it speaks to the fire service’s core purpose. In the same way, your leadership discerns and develops a foundational mission statement that is inward looking to help focus your employees with the motivation to positively influence their thoughts and their actions. It should be clear, concise, and reflect the core purpose for which your organization exists.

2. Vision to Reality

When a fire chief takes command of an emergency, they will develop a vision for how the current chaos will be controlled. They communicate this to all levels of leadership as assignments are given, and the work begins. The top leadership for any organization should share, through all forms of communications, a clear vision for a desired future. This is critical if an organization is to engage everyone, working in every capacity, to focus their individual contributions toward bringing the vision to reality.

3. Values for All

Firefighters generally hold their personal values in high regard, and will hold each other accountable for living up to them. Collaborate with your workforce to create a set of values that defines the work ethic that all employees will use to hold each other accountable. These values focus on the individual performance necessary to serve the foundational mission, while working as a team to realize the shared vision.

Leadership in every organization needs to continuously improve the performance of every employee – to provide what it takes to be the best that they can be. One way to make this your focus is to write and promulgate meaningful mission, vision, and values statements. When you do, you will have unleashed the power to focus on – and deliver–  the right success: Organizational success.

Tom Pandola is the coauthor of Light a Fire under Your Business: How to Build a Class 1 Corporate Culture through Inspirational Leadership.

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About The Author

Tom Pandola is a director of communications in the air medical transportation industry. He is the author of Light a Fire under Your Business: How to Build a Class 1 Corporate Culture through Inspirational Leadership, and cofounder of Third Alarm, a leadership consulting company he started with coauthor Jim Bird. Pandola's work experience includes 25 years with the Los Angeles City Fire Department where, as a fire captain and battalion chief, he tested inspirational leadership principles while solving problems associated with responding to fires, floods, riots, and earthquakes.

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