Informal Leadership… Simple definition: leading without rank or title. Having influence amongst the crew that leads them in the right direction without a bugle. I mean honestly, I wish I could change “Jump Seat Leadership” to “Jump Seat Influence.” It just doesn’t sound as good. Leading without rank is not a new message. Having a positive of influence with others around you is also not new! It is however a message that I have inadvertently lived throughout my fire service and military career. If you do it right, it can be effective on many levels.
When I came up in the fire service, it was clear. Not all the leaders around me were wearing bugles. They were not officers. They were men and women who had been on the job for a little while and people followed them. Why? I don’t know. Why do you follow any leader? I guess each individual has their reasons. For me, I saw where these guys/girls were going and I wanted to go with them. They were here for the community and their brothers and sisters. All I know is I learned early on that rank and leadership do not go hand in hand.
In fact, there are many officers in leadership positions that are not leaders/influencers. Great supervisors and managers, just not great leaders. This doesn’t make them bad people. A good manager partnered with a good leader, rank or no rank can make a great team. You don’t think your officer is a good leader and you think you are? Great, team up with them. Help them succeed at the position they’re in. Don’t just talk shit and let them drown while you sit there thinking you could do better. Have an unreceptive officer who who doesn’t wanna hear it? Find a way to lead the crew anyway. Someone has to lead them. They won’t let you? It’s worth fighting for. Lack of leadership/influence is dangerous. A crew without a leader at any level isn’t going anywhere good.
If you are at the firefighter level, you have the ability to lead right where you are. From the jump seat. Take the initiate to be a positive influence for your crew and make sure they are all getting where they need to go. Just got hired? Ok, it might be time to listen for a few years and look to a senior informal leader with some time in before you take over. Just my two cents. It’s not that new people are capable, it’s just that they may not have enough job knowledge to be capable in the fire service just yet. Give it some time.
Choices… It seems no one wants to take advice these days. No one wants to be “told” what to do these days. Chain of command??? That’s a struggle in 2022. It seems like most days it’s every man or woman for themself. Everyone wants to be “equal” at the fire house when it comes to everything from being a rookie to being the thirty year guy. Which is strange to me considering there is a chain of command and a core of senior men and women who have come before some of us and know what they’re doing…To me, it seems more like these things exist rather than that they are followed. So, everyone wants their voice to be heard and everyone wants to make their own choices. “Don’t tell me what to do, I got this…”
Now, I don’t have a problem with firefighters being treated equally and with respect. That should go without saying. What I’m saying is that if you want to make your own choices and ditch advice every time an officer or senior man gives you some wisdom, be willing to suffer the outcome of your choices. Yes, they are your choices but they will also be your consequences. Unfortunately, sometimes these consequences also trickle down to other crew members as well.
Sometimes there are people looking out for us that have “been there done that.” Sometimes it does pay to keep our mouth shut and listen. In a craft where we are supposed to be a team, it seems that everyone is trying to create their own way to success. This is what hinders us to the realization that there are good men and women in the fire service who will look out for us. A lot of the time just sitting, listening, and taking advice will help us make the right choice!
Before you make “your choices…” Listen, consider the outcome, consider the source, weigh the options, weight the consequences, make your choice. Not everyone in here is out to get you. A lot of us are still here and willing to get you where you want to go…. My choices, my consequences. Just don’t forget to own the choices and the outcome that follows…
Finish Strong…Well the year is coming to an end and we are staring to think about next year. We’re stuffing ourselves with cheese, crackers, egg nog and bourbon. Sounds like a great time. You know what else we’re stuffing ourself with, excuses. Excuses as to why we did not accomplish our goals from last year. With 19 days left in the year, most of us have already blown off the rest of the year as if it does not exist. Instead of finishing strong, we are using this time to procrastinate right into the new year. I just don’t think it’s effective for your 2022 to be built on a foundation of procrastination.
This year is not over. We have 19 days to finish this year strong. Get off your ass, get out there and finish up what you said you were going to finish up in 2022! Don’t let the excuse that 2023 is right around the corner stop you from accomplishing what you said you would. I mean seriously, what’s gonna change in the next 19 days? Is something magical going to happen on January 1 that I haven’t been clued in to? Short answer… NO. There is definitely one thing you are thinking of right now. One area that you could finish strong in! Go in to the new year with some motivation and discipline.
Enjoy the holiday season, but don’t use it as an excuse to lay back and not do anything for the rest of the year. It’s not over. Finish strong my friends!
Authentic… You can’t fake caring. It has to be authentic or you have to be making an authentic effort without the promise of reward. Either you genuinely care about your crew members or you don’t. It doesn’t make you a terrible person. However, I think if you find yourself at the firehouse treating your peers and subordinates like they are numbers, it’s worth asking yourself why.
Most of us will do a twenty plus year career spending 1/3 or more of our life in a firehouse living with other firefighters. Naturally, I assumed that we would just care about each other because we live together, eat together and experience trauma together. It’s just not the case in every firehouse. Not that’s it’s “wrong.” Some people just don’t have that experience and honestly, it bothers me.
I’ve been lucky over the course of my career. Either I had people that cared about me when I needed it or I’ve been the one caring. Though I didn’t always do it right, genuine connections were made with my brothers and sisters around me. This has made it way easier to endure things like mandatory overtime, busy years on the box and personal problems that are unique to the life of a firefighter. Though upper administration may see me as a number some days, I do not identify with that number. I am not “23971.” I am a real guy with a name that chose a career in the fire service to serve my community. You are the same. So, let’s start learning to care about each other beyond the badge. On and off duty.
I’m not asking you to be ate up with the job, attend conferences, classes and seminars. I’m encouraging you to give a shit about the men and women around you. Not because you have to, but because you want to. Firefighters sniff out “fake care” in a heart beat! Learn to care because you want to… This is especially important if you are in a leadership role. Not an officer role, a leadership role. Formal or informal, if you are in a leadership role and don’t care about your people, I would challenge you calling yourself a leader. But hey, that’s just my opinion. It’s my article.
Care. It’s that simple. Don’t know how? Learn how. Need help? Get help. Trust me, it’s worth it. – Josh Chase
Changes… Who likes changes? One of the most popular sayings in the fire service is “We’ve always done it that way.” Not only is that saying dated, it’s killing progress all over the fire service. There are new ways to do things. You may not like them, but they exist. Also, at the risk of trying something new just to try something new; why wouldn’t you just give it a shot? If it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. Just don’t stay stuck because you’ve always done it that way. That’s a stupid reason.
This can apply to so many topics in the fire service. Strategy, tactics, leadership, the way we stretch a line, cut a hole in the roof or even mental health. I 100% believe in the basics, but I believe in them as a foundation to build on and a starting point for new thoughts and ideas. So, stay open to change. Trust me, I’m still struggling with this one a little. I’m not a huge fan of change, I just have learned it’s necessary!
So, changes…Let’s take leadership and mental health for an example. Leadership in the fire service used to mean you had to hold a position of leadership to lead. That’s an old concept and it’s false. You need to care about your people. You need to gain influence with them for the sole purpose of helping them get where they need to go. Leadership is about leading. Going somewhere first, sticking your neck out, testing the water before the men and women under and around you do. Leadership is not about position, barking orders and sending people places you’ve never been willing to go yourself. But, we’ve always done it that way… Stop.
Mental health… “Suck it up…It’s part of the job…marriage trouble comes with the job…Isolation…depression…it’s fine…We’re fine…You’re fine…everyone’s fine…You need to be ok.” Well that’s all garbage. A lot of us are not ok, and that’s ok! The way we’ve have handled mental health in the past is mind boggling to me. If you look around, we’ve created a lot of our own problems by not taking care of our people when it comes to mental health. Why? Because we’ve always done it that way. The old timers handled it, we should be able to handle it. News flash, I know some solid old timers; they didn’t handle it and are now handling it in retirement…
All I’m saying here is that change is good. Change breeds progress. Don’t stay stuck because we’ve done it a certain way forever. Don’t be threatened by all the new people with new ideas (maybe just a few of them.) We’re headed into a new year hear mi compadres. What have you been doing that you’ve always done? What’s not working? What can you change? Change is good. Change is a friend of progress. If you want to stay stuck in your ways, that’s fine. Just don’t get mad at the people that are trying to get away from you…