Trust and Letting Go

I was clearing up from a reported water rescue the other day (turned out to be a false call) and I was reviewing the thoughts that had run through my head on the way to the alarm.  Unfortunately, the 18 years I spent as the special operations officer still causes me to immediately think "special ops" instead of reflexively thinking "incident commander", but I can (and have) consciously made that switch.

I was wondering to myself why that is.  Is it ingrained in me? I'm sure that's part of it, but is it also an issue of trust?

For these officers that are now doing my old job, although we have trained them and evaluated them, and have vetted their abilities, it's still an issue of letting go.  Just as a parent discovers their child is ready to go off on their own, it's always difficult to turn that nozzle over to the new guy and be the one standing behind them, guiding them in rather then doing it.  They will make mistakes, no doubt about it, but your job is to be there to coach them and mentor them, not to do it for them.

I always was amazed at what a lousy supervisor Captain Kirk was (I'm sure that will set someone off).  Why is it that HE always had to beam down to the planet to save the day?  Didn't he have any confidence in his personnel?  His job should have been to teach them, encourage them, and point them in the direction.  Then it's a matter of a little shove out of the nest and they should be flying.

Don't make the mistake between being the "go-to" person and being a leader who won't let go of your charges.  When they say "you can catch a fish and feed a man, but it's better to teach them to fish and they can do it forever", you can see what I mean.  Do you think that it's a GOOD legacy to have your subordinates depend upon you forever?


  • Brian P. Mayers, CFPS, CFEI says:

    The difference between being responsible FOR them, and being responsible TO them. Kids or firefighters…

  • Freddie M. Bell says:

    Mick, you’ve hit on a subject I believe has (in some way or form) perplexed many leaders and managers. Stepping away from other leadership roles can be daunting. It’s very easy to “jump in” and get involved in the minute details of an incident; hopefully, the more complex, overarching responsibilities as the incident commander do not suffer as a result.

    Personally, I believe having an understanding (in your case, special ops) of the intracacies (sp?) of the emergency can be a great asset. For example, special operations incidents may require more in depth incident action planning, resources, and time for a succesful resolution. With a special ops background, some errors with the action plan might be avoided. I’ve often suggested if an IC doesn’t have good knowledge of a problem, to find someone that does and get him/her into the CP as technical resource.

    Also, my experience as an incident commander seemed to be constrained by my personal limitations. As an example, I tended to not establish an operations officer as early as I could have. Another personal limitation was not allowing the ops officer to perform his/her role without me occasionally barging in. I erred by not remembering that strategy is determined by the IC and tactics are generally determined by the ops chief.

    At times, I believed this shortfall was brought about because of the lack of opportunities to utilize a larger command/general staff. I mean, 98% of incidents may require only 2-3 ICS positions be filled.

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