The other day I was sitting at Coligny Circle, which is a pretty busy spot on our Island. I was actually trying to get some work done using the Town’s open WiFi connection there, rather than watching squirrels running out in the road. A long time ago I wrote (in my first blog ever, over on FirefighterNation.com) about how some people make decisions like a squirrel decides whether it is going to cross the road: first this way, then realizing impending danger – that way – then thinking maybe that was a bad idea – this way…then the awful crunch of tire meeting squirrel.
Now as some of you know (who have been following me for a while) I’m not crazy about squirrels. But while continuing to battle with the squirrels in my yard and despite my general impression that they are just rats with bushy tails, I still don’t really wish them any harm. While I would not come to a screeching halt to avoid hitting a squirrel with my car, I’m certainly not going to swerve to hit one, and I’ll even slow down to give them the benefit of doubt. But just because I don’t really care for them, I still at least respect them as an adversary and I would never go out of my way to hurt them.
Well, it’s like that with you all and my other fellow beings; I respect you and your thoughts, I pray for your souls and your enlightenment, and I’d never go out of my way to hurt anyone. I’d even avoid doing so if I could. But at some point we will come to a critical intersection where your indecision matches up with my desire for forward motion and we revert to that law of physics where an object in motion will continue in motion unless acted on by some outside force. Are you getting it?
I have little to no patience with the status quo, especially if staying with the status quo serves no purpose. I was remarking this morning to a friend that many “leaders” are afraid of the unknown because they don’t know how the unknown is going to treat them now or their legacy later. It may be that the future holds them to account for their inabilities, their failures, or their inequities. The status quo provides comfort. The status quo provides reassurance. If we know that the future is the status quo, we can control that. Everything else is shrouded in mystery.
If you live your life afraid of what is about to come, you will be afraid to take any chances. If you live your life afraid of what is about to come, you will be cautious to the point of avoidance when an opportunity arises. If you fail to take a chance when an opportunity arises there will be no growth. While there are places for leaders who simply maintain peace, if your world is in constant turmoil, as a leader you must strive for change. If your world in constantly evolving and you fail to grow with it and improve, you will go the way of the dinosaurs. Or even better, the way of the indecisive squirrel.
If we weren’t losing firefighters from preventable cause, or if we didn’t have technologies that would help us to save lives and property more efficiently, or if we had leaders that were fully prepared to lead others in providing emergency services, we wouldn’t need to change. If we had a fully efficient EMS system in every community and adequate layperson interventions in place, and lives were improved by rapidly delivered patient care, we wouldn’t need to change.
While there are those who continue to promote equilibrium, the time is not now for equilibrium. Equilibrium suggests that things are okay, and things are clearly not okay. We must as leaders continue to strive for improvement. We must encourage and motivate those who follow us in order to build a better customer service delivery model. When things have improved not by what “seems” like improvement, but based on objective, measurable data, then and only then should we be comfortable resting on our laurels. Our job entails more than just responding to emergencies. It entails responding to community needs and assisting our neighbors. That assistance comes in many forms, but the agencies who get it will be survivors, and those who don’t, well, I think you can figure that out yourself. It’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”.
When the squirrel decided he wanted to cross the road, it was because he had an objective to reach on the other side. Staying on one side of the road meant the objective would not be met. Going after that objective involved a certain amount of risk. The squirrel may or may not have considered that risk before making his decision. We are not squirrels. We hopefully have enough brainpower to determine whether the risks that we take are worth the rewards at the end and make the right decisions. And if we rush out into the stream and find ourselves challenged there is also a risk in changing direction that we need to take into consideration.
As emergency service leaders, we must ensure that the decisions we make are based on objective, unemotional criteria involving what is best for the people we serve. No tradition supersedes our prime directive of service to others. Any decision we make must consider the ultimate mission: protection of life, property, and the environment. If we remain locked in on the present and base our actions on serving the status quo, we don’t achieve that mission and we will have failed. Our failure has consequences; unfortunately, in our business, those consequences often involve injury, death, or other severe loss. It is incumbent upon us to keep that from happening. But other consequences are pretty devastating as well like the elimination of overall budget, which can result in reduction or elimination of staff, programs, equipment, or whatever else you can imagine.
Challenge yourself and your team to remain vigilant to unmet needs, to consider means to remedy those needs, and to strive for continual improvement. If you don’t engage your vision, it is tantamount to going out into the road and freezing in the path. And we all know the ending to THAT story.