Innovation Distinguishes Between Leaders and Followers


If you didn't know, that's a quote from Steve Jobs (I didn't).  I was sitting in the office of our Deputy Chief/Ops, reading a magazine while he finished up a meeting, and I saw that quote.  I liked it a lot and wanted to share it with you.

The quote was being used by David White, the editor of Industrial Fire World, in this month's editorial, where he is discussing "evolution vs. intelligent design".  His point was that while it is fantastic we have these newfangled radios and all, they're really not worth anything if we can't talk to anyone on them because they're too complicated to use. What's more, while we have been wrestling with interoperable communications for eons (I mean, look at the Tower of Babel and all), we have another situation that merits a technological solution: tracking firefighter location inside a burning structure.

While some of this stuff is a little out of my immediate reach, there are tools used daily around us that don't get used to their full efficiency.  Take for example, that little bundle of software you probably have on your computer right there in front of you.  If you're like me, you have some sort of office pack with a word processing application, a spreadsheet application, and a database application.  In most total office packages, I would surmise that they are interoperable between each other.  I'd be willing to bet you that most fire stations these days have computer workstations and in each of those you also have some sort of interoperable office pack.

How many of you are proficient at using these programs, not just as stand-alone applications, but in concert with one another?  Can you create a table in Excel and transfer it to Word?  Can you create an Access database and then query it to get information, then export it to Excel to create graphs and tables for presentations?

I was at a "presentation" the other day, and the person was trying to influence a governmental body into giving their project funding.  While the speaker was disorganized, what was more appalling is that in this day and age, there weren't any supporting slides or visuals to reinforce their points.  There's that whole theory of how much you retain by hearing and seeing something in comparison to just hearing it or just seeing it that you learned in Instructor I (one more reason for requiring this kind of a course as a pre-requisite for Fire Officer I: it teaches you how to communicate to an audience).  You'd think that by now someone might have retained that information themselves.  If you care enough about your project that you're willing to get up in front of a whole bunch of people to discuss it, why wouldn't you try to SELL it?

If you want to be a leader, it's not just about surviving, it's about EXPERIENCING.  You have to stretch and pull, not push.  You don't see the lead climber at the back of the pack, do you?  They're the one forging the way, finding the path, and establishing the precedence.  You have to get out ahead of people to lead them and the way to do that in places other than on the battlefield is to be innovative and thinking about new ways to do things, and learning and finding out the better way up, not by taking the same path everyone else takes.

To be a real leader requires creativity and more than anything, the ability to manage in a dynamic environment.  If you are willing to be flexible and change with the conditions that present themselves, people will look to you for the answers when they don't have them.  This isn't just from your subordinates, either, this will very likely come from your superiors as well.

There's a question I once heard on The West Wing, "Would you rather be 'The Man', or 'The Man that The Man Goes To'?"  If you are a subordinate who desires to be considered a leader (or wishes to have real influence), consider that premise.  I hear from people all the time who complain that they wish their boss was a better leader and I always say, "Why don't you fill that spot?"  Leadership abhors a vacuum.  If the appointed or legitimate leader fails to lead, someone will.  If that place is filled by you, insure that you cement your value to the boss and the rest of the crew by being a positive, motivated, seeker of truth and knowledge.

If you care enough about your job that you want to lead, you should consider that leading requires more effort than following. A lot of that effort is learning how to be ahead of everyone else in the pack, especially when it comes to improving your condition and by employing creativity to do a safer and more effective job.  Be proactive and be the best at what you do.  if you do that, I can reassure you, with a good attitude, people will come knocking on your door for the answers.

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