Capitalize on Your Strengths

DC Ed is not happy.  I didn't break it and don't ask me to fix it either.

DC Ed is not happy. I didn't break it and don't ask me to fix it either.

I was watching a gentleman installing some cabinets in our laundry room the other day. A few months ago, one of the cabinets fell off the wall; luckily, we saw it was going before it did and got the items out before it literally came down. The man was looking over the remnants of the previous installation (I wasn’t the installer) and made some comments about how to properly put cabinets up. I sheepishly informed him that I had no clue. While I’m pretty confident in the belief that if your community is in a total disaster, I’m probably one of the first people you should call.  If you need a cabinet put up, I’d go elsewhere.  Quickly.

I can put up a raker shore, but it isn’t going to win any awards for precision cuts and edges. If you need to dig someone out of a building, or lead a company into a fire, or command a major incident, I’m your guy.  If you want it done right, you can forget anything involving auto repair, carpentry, or the finer points of heating and air conditioner installation.  Asking me to wire something is probably not wise (or safe) either.

We all have our strengths; each of us are good at some things and may be horrible at others. Instead, there are managers who try to fit the proverbial square peg into a round hole. Most of the people I work with can patch something together (see The Fixers), but the attempt is very much something not up to any standard.   When they are showing off their “handiwork” to me, I usually end up saying, “Well, it will hold until someone can get here to fix it better”.   Usually I end that with a little smile to acknowledge their efforts, knowing that I’m certainly not criticizing: if I had done it, it would probably look worse.

When we put together teams, to develop effective teams requires thought as to what is needed by the organization, but failing to consider the small team dynamics and assume everything is going to go swimmingly, is simply nonsense.  We used to have a chief whose idea of improving small team (i.e.; company) effectiveness was to put one good guy into a team of poor performers. That way we could “spread the wealth”. Ultimately, this would result in my look in return (me rolling my eyes heavenward, knowing what was going to happen) and a muttered, “We’ll see.”

No surprise then, when months later the recently transferred good performers were  looking for jobs elsewhere while the poor performers were laughing about how they “ran off another one”. If you really DO want to get rid of your best people, keep feeding them to the sharks. It’s usually not a matter of IF they bail, but WHEN.

Building a good team requires strong leadership. For those of you who are aspiring officers, this is your opportunity to shine. If your officer has some areas where they would like to improve, this is your chance to offer assistance in what he or she lacks (subtly, I’d suggest). Are they poor at documentation? Offer to help with reports. Are they better at medical than fire training? Offer to help with the former or the latter, whichever would help them. I had officers who wouldn’t know a decent knot if it hit them on top of the head; I was ultimately the go-to person anytime someone needed a good ropes and knots class.  The experience you will get in leading will pay dividends later.

If you are an officer, it is wise to be self-aware of your abilities.  Build on your strengths and surround yourself with those who can help you with your weaknesses. I would suggest informing your crew of how they can help you and ask for suggestions to improve. If done correctly, they will appreciate your candor, they will get a chance to show their particular expertise (and impress you), and put together with each other member of the team, fill an important role.

If you are building a home, you wouldn’t  have the framers do the electric and the roofers do the plumbing, would you? If it doesn’t make sense to do that with something as trivial as putting together a building (said tongue-in-cheek, I hope you realize), why would to take that same chance when building an effective fire and emergency response team?  Be smart and seek the people out to best fill the important roles on your team. You all will be that much happier with the end result.


  • Mick –

    I couldn’t agree more. When I was an assistant chief I always talked about how our chief used me to the best of my abilities.

    The second assistant chief was traditonally assigned to oversee fleet maintenance. I don’t change the oil in my own car, so I asked: Why would you want me to take charge of a multi-million dollar cache of vehicles?

    Recognizing my strengths and his weaknesses, and v/v, he appointed me as the chief of training and public information officer. He wasn’t comfortable in front of a camera while I was once accused of holding a press conference to announce my imminent birth while still in my mother’s womb.

    It wasn’t that I was incapable of scheduling and addressing apparatus issues, it just wasn’t in my comfort zone or, just as importantly, in my passion zone. He recognized that and thus benefited from my performing to the best of my abilities.

    Great blog. You’ve inspired me to use your blog as a jumping off point for creating new cotent once again. Thanks.

    Stay safe. Train often.

  • Mick Mayers says:

    Thanks Tiger. I’ll look for the article for the “re-tweet”.

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