As you may have come to realize, of all things, Firehouse Zen is about leadership. While many of the things we talk about here involve best practices, there are more than an acceptable share of the mediocre and downright lousy who continue to fill roles better suited for real students of the game.
So while we will host this special column from time to time (weekly might be pushing it a little), the intent is not to belittle these individuals, even though some of them might very well deserve it, but to illustrate a challenge in each case and to discuss the methods we can employ to guard against falling into those traps ourselves.
Since I sense a little trepidation from you all, I’ll start. There’s a person I know who is in a position where they could create a lot of positive influence, as they have the opportunity to work with many different agencies (and this person doesn’t work in my department). Instead, our Weekly Weasel is such a suck-up and gossipy troublemaker that even the weasels get upset because he gives them a bad name.
Somebody who typifies this personality is Moses Gunn’s character Staff Sgt. Webster from Heartbreak Ridge. Once you check out the link, you’ll know EXACTLY who I’m talking about. So while Sgt. Webster is firmly ensconced in Major Malcolm Powers’ hindquarters building an “e-lite fighting team”, in actuality, he is a manipulative jerk who isn’t concerned with anything except making himself look good. Just like this week’s Weasel. So for argument’s sake, let’s call him Sgt. Webster.
Sgt. Webster lacks an essential quality of a leader: integrity. He isn’t concerned with building an “e-lite” team, or he wouldn’t be so concerned with going around behind the scenes undermining the efforts of others. In fact, the modus operandi of this type of weasel is exactly that: they are so worried that they aren’t going to look good, that instead of worrying about meaningful training and mentoring and educating for his people, he’s spending valuable time building a case for his resume.
Short and sweet learning moment here from Mick: “Don’t worry about your resume; just put your ego behind you, do an amazing job, build trust, and people will follow. Your resume will build itself.”
So, while our weasel gets his comeuppance in the movie, it’s not always like this in real life. In fact, I’ve been waiting for our real weasel to get his comeuppance for years, and yet he is still in the same position and hasn’t changed one bit. Now for the moment you have been waiting for, the reason behind this endeavor. The lessons.
First off, if you exhibit these traits, know that everyone can see right through it. Integrity is an important trait because it fills in the biggest blank in a personal relationship; it tells everyone that if presented with an ambiguous situation, you will do the right thing. Be that the right thing by the Golden Rule, or the right thing by the greater community, or whatever you hold dear as your guiding principles, this person should be depended upon to be fair and just, and they routinely fail to do so. As a result, everyone can depend upon you to be all about yourself and they know who to avoid when they need leadership.
If you know you have these traits and want to improve yourself: sit down and identify what is important and valuable to your team. And be honest, since what is important to you is you, while you are sitting there, put down what is important to you in another column. And since you need to be true to yourself and be a leader, try looking at commonalities that serve you and serve your team and focus on those things, while avoiding the areas where you conflict right now like the plague (you’ll see why in a moment). As you begin to achieve successes in these areas, you will begin to see something. You will be gaining more trust, you will begin to look better, and you will start to realize that hey, maybe the team approach has some merit after all. Because if your team looks good, as the leader, you look good. Just maybe, you’ll begin to realize that those areas where you had some differences weren’t really as important as you once thought. In fact, you might even concede on a few items because it makes you feel better.
Now for the fun part; if you have to work for or around this person and they aren’t reading this to realize what a jerk they are. If you simply can’t avoid them (which is the best advice), then first off, never give this person any ammunition, because they will use it against you. But if you lead by example and do the right thing, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Second, if you do screw up, beat that person to admitting it and take one for the team. You will gain more credibility with everyone involved and while it might sting a little at first, owning up to your faults early will really defuse any situations down the line. NEVER let anyone stack chips against you, because I can reassure you, they’ll call on them later.
If you have someone like this as a subordinate, the best thing to do is again, to set a good example, but also to reward the times when they are showing teamlike tendencies, and ignore any efforts to gain kudos on your behalf. To acknowledge that someone has plowed your opposition under for your benefit is to encourage it, and who knows, tomorrow, Sgt. Webster might be plowing you under for his new project. As flattering as it might be that this person will kill your enemies for you, know that you are feeding a monster.
Here’s the part where you share your moments with your own Sgt. Websters, offer advice for dealing with these schmucks, and maybe even share next week’s subject matter. So feel free to comment, pass it along, “fan” Firehouse Zen on Facebook, or do whatever it is that makes you say, this is alright stuff. Because the more of you who read this, the more enlightened we ALL will be. Share the wealth and thanks for reading.