There’s been a lot of talk about death in my family lately. I have been coveting a tortilladora for a while, a relatively heavy device for making homemade tortillas. The other day, I bought one (they’re cheap, but I had to make a side trip to the supermercado to buy it). Of course, when I did, my daughter Emma, who is my kitchen sidekick and sous chef, got attached to it. At dinner, we were joking around and I announced that when I died, I would make sure I specifically left her the tortilladora in my will.
Of course, my three-year old, Honora, took this to mean that my death was imminent, and for the last week everyone in our family has been getting quizzed as to when we are going to die. Explaining to Honora that I had no immediate plans to die wasn’t cutting it, and explaining to her that everyone will eventually die, but not necessarily over the weekend wasn’t doing it either. All we can do, I guess, is to be reassuring and hope the discussion evolves to something else soon.
Heartbreaking as it is, however, it brings to mind that our life on this mortal coil isn’t forever and just as I tried to reassure Honora that it wouldn’t be within this pay period, we really have no guarantees that it won’t. Interestingly enough, our buddy the Fire Critic was just reflecting on this very same subject the other day, while blogging about firefighter wills being offered to personnel.
As good as this sounds, and our department approaches this from a different angle, by providing a one-time benefit to all employees for $300 toward a will or financial counseling, I was hit with something a few years ago that made me spend that much and more as a result of our daughter Caroline having special needs. Having a “regular” will drawn up would only exacerbate the problems for Caroline; we actually needed to have a specially trained attorney draw up our wills to include the creation of a special needs trust in order to keep the government from taking away any benefits that Caroline would have coming to her as a result of her having Down syndrome. So the objective discussion is that not only do we need to plan, but we need to know what we are planning for.
The point of my post today is one of leadership, believe it or not, and it goes to the heart of your legacy. While you may be doing the right thing by your people on a daily basis, there’s also the consideration that we need to prepare them for the event when we are no longer with them, for when we retire, or move to another position, or for any other reason (we’ll leave the realm of death out of it, but that’s another contingency, of course).
If you are a transformational leader, rather than simply a transactional leader, your personnel will already be understanding the need to engage themselves intuitively, to participate and stretch their comfort zones (with you nearby as a safety net), and to identify the areas they need to improve. You should also be taking this time to coach these people- encouraging them, redirecting them, and allowing them to take small leaps, like leaving them in command of some incidents (like I said, though, with you at their side).
At the company officer level, this sometimes gets a little challenging, since you can’t necessarily turn over command of your company at the next worker to the new guy (there’s usually not enough of those to go around), but there are plenty of other learning moments. Put them in charge of the company at training, or better yet, have them teach a few classes to the company. Get them used to being in front. Let them handle some alarm activations or medical calls or even some service calls as the CO. Surprisingly enough, we probably had all kinds of training on how to handle fire, medical, and rescue incidents, but how about the critical thinking involved in solving a ruptured water heater call, or a public assistance request? There are needs for the CO to not only solve for X, but also to be able to provide effective interaction and communication with the complainant to help them through the situation.
While you may have subordinates who can achieve this learning on their own, it is important for you to not only facilitate it, but to monitor it to insure that what these individuals are doing is what meets your criteria. Coaching and mentoring involves your oversight; you just can’t leave it to chance that they will have absorbed what you have been demonstrating over the years. While you may have looked upon your own mentor for years and figured out what he or she was doing and understood how they approached situations, not everyone has the same understanding level and while your subordinates may seem to have figured it out, there’s a good chance they are just parroting your moves as well. Thus the need to have these folks achieve understanding and a deep appreciation for the nuances of each decision and how they came about. It’s one thing to have someone do what you tell them to do, it’s a different thing to have them think through the situation on their own.
What do you want your legacy of leadership to be? Do you really want to leave it to chance that your students absorbed the lessons? Insure that you prepare your personnel for the future by realizing the entire situation and make preparations now to support them in the days to come.