The Weekly Weasel – Installment 2

ladder talk webI’m so happy that the Weekly Weasel seems to have intrigued some people, so let’s have another go at it. Our subject for today is the officer who sets a less-than-stellar example for his personnel (don’t worry, I have some “her” stories too, coming up).  This weasel is going to go by the name “Lt. Bubba”.

In Lt. Bubba’s head, he is an excellent example of leadership.  He has managed to cram his fat butt into his too small uniform pants for a while now (reminding me of trying to stick 11 pounds of crap into a 10 pound bag) and his cheap cologne and immaculate hair might cause one to think he is concerned with his image and how he is perceived by his subordinates. If this were truly the case, Lt. Bubba should probably re-evaluate his daily actions rather than his appearance, as this brings me to a short discussion on leading by example.

While it would seem intuitive that subordinates will perform to the level that they perceive their officer to be performing at, it is also true that newer members to a team will perform to the level that the senior members of a team are performing at.  Likewise, an entire organization’s attitude will ebb and flow along with the attitude of the chiefs.  There are, of course, always exceptions to this rule, because people are individuals, but just the act of watching someone who is engaged, inspiring, transformational, and positive will translate to the subordinates because they can see that this is the expected norm.

Lt. Bubba’s actions, however, are of an officer who is aloof, uncompromising, and negative, unless, of course, it is about some of his “heroic” actions taken during one of the many (many, many) war stories he likes to tell.  But once done eating his bear claw and reminiscing about the good ol’ days, it’s back to his office, where the door goes shut and one can only assume the amazing transformation of the organization that is going on in there (which is probably more primping, reading the latest girlie magazine, and of course, a little Solitaire on the computer, rather than anything productive).

His personnel, in the meanwhile, are milling about aimlessly.  They might get some training, and they might not. They will probably clean up around the station (because Lt. Bubba insists on a clean station, so long as it isn’t him doing the cleaning) and wash the trucks, but to me, most of this is just a replacement for checkers, because it certainly isn’t meaningful effort.

If coached and mentored correctly, personnel often manage to reach a high bar because they are interested in doing well unless there is a factor which causes them to do otherwise.  In Lt. Bubba’s case, it is his laziness, and although the clean station and the grooming seem to indicate a well-organized team, it is just a facade, because his personnel aren’t prepared to go out and do anything other than what he tells them to do, and certainly not prepared to think through a problem and solve it.

When personnel are unable to hit the bar, it is key to determine that cause and root it out.  This can be done through counseling, encouraging, remediation, or the less preferred method, discipline.  If individuals can understand when deficiencies occur and self-adjust, it is certainly a more pleasant method of doing so, but in the event that they can not, that is where the supervisors must step in.  Lt. Bubba is so busy doing as little meaningful as possible, that his personnel are adrift and might or might not get the direction they need.

In organizations with high standards and expectations, the community can sense this commitment and get their heads around that, supporting the organization with good response in the “letters to the editor”, and comments at the weekend BBQs around town.  This is what happens when you have good people, good training, good equipment and apparatus, good rules and guidelines, good staff support, and most importantly, good leadership not just from officers, but from the core leaders- the troops.

Lt. Bubba is all about the window dressing.  I know chiefs who say, “Well, there’s nothing I can pin on him.  His station is clean, his people are always in uniform, and they come in at 0800 and go home at 0800.  Exactly what is your problem with him?”

Well, when I put Lt. Bubba’s people on the fireground, they are constantly looking at others for direction.  Every order must be spelled out in exacting detail, because they don’t understand the difference between strategic, tactical, and task level decision-making.  They too are aloof and ask no questions, and don’t understand the inner workings of an incident, and when faced with a problem they have never faced before, are like deer in the headlights, because they have no critical thinking skills.  On medical calls, it is the same way; they don’t do anything unless told to.  I suspect that it is less a motivational issue so much as it is a failure to comprehend what the next step is in a certain event and to perform proactively.

As a leader, it isn’t just about making everything look good today, it is preparing your troops for tomorrow.  I mentioned this at length in my post the other day.  Lt. Bubba is big on window dressing and little on substance.  This appeals to some chiefs because they think, “Well, he stays out of trouble and he looks good.  I’m okay with that.”  Unfortunately, his personnel are working in a transactional leadership state and need to develop their own thinking skills, because when he is gone, they will not only fail to understand what they need to do, but they might just drift away in the process.

What kinds of techniques might be used to push Lt. Bubba toward coming out of the office and doing what is really needed?  What efforts must be made by his supervisors to develop a more effective team?

Be the catalyst for real change.  If you have a Lt. Bubba in your organization, the people under his command are starving for education.  They may not know it right away, but if shown the path to real teamwork, they might be the spark that moved that machine forward.  Progression and innovation come from original thought, not the parroting of rules.  Personnel need to be able to understand, so they can think for themselves when the time is present.

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