Be Proud, But Humble

I work for a pretty damn good fire and rescue department. Take this link shared with you all from SCONFIRE. You like that? That’s us. And by us, I mean my department, the one I’ve worked with for the last twenty-eight years.  And in two other links, you’ll see that this is us too, “Going Green“, and here, where we are going “High Tech“.  Props, as always, to Grant at SCONFIRE for sharing these stories.

There’s a lot more.  But I’m not here to brag.  I’m here to tell you that while “pride goeth before a fall”, pride is also necessary to motivate your personnel, and a little pride can go a long way.  If you are going to implement change in your organizational culture, there should be a reluctance to be where you were and a desire to go where you are going.  You can quote me on that.  But pride has to be tempered by a few things, reality being one.  Knowing that even the best are fallible is another.

It isn’t easy.  We have had our bad days just like everyone else, and we continue to have bad days just like everyone else. We too have people in our department who, given a million dollars in a briefcase, would be upset that it wasn’t on a silver tray.  I certainly don’t view everything with rose-colored glasses, although some people might believe that to be the case because I’m not talking about the negatives, but discussing the positives.  We have challenges and I have personal challenges.  But instead of seeing these as roadblocks, I see them as opportunities.

If you know me well, you know that I am actually a deep-seated cynic.  But I have been places where I have found such turmoil and trouble that I know I have absolutely no right to complain.  Unfortunately, I have been in a lot of these places.  Conversely, I have been in places where they have got it right.  They may not have every resource they ask for, but they make the best of what they’ve got and they remain hopeful and optimistic, knowing that each day brings them another little piece of the puzzle they can work toward completion.

There’s a fire department in a neighboring community where the Fire Chief used to be my chauffeur, a long time ago.  This guy gets “IT” and he has done everything he can do to infuse “IT” into his people.  When I ask his personnel how things are going with “Big Daddy”, I have never heard a single one of them complain.  They are upbeat and positive about their department, about where they are going, and about the leadership.  They make things work and they have fun doing their jobs.  And that Chief isn’t just letting people come to work and play checkers either.  They train often, they do all the jobs we do short of ALS transport, and all kinds of other things.  These people have a lot of pride in their organization and it shows.

I am extraordinarily proud of my department and most of all, of the people we work with, and the people we work for.  The community here is generally pretty proud of their department also.  We get a lot of letters of thanks and praise.  We get awards.  Our Town Manager pretty much says we stay off his radar, and that’s a good thing.  But it’s not all sunshine and roses and it’s important you know that.

There is being proud and there is being delusional.  While we are very honored to have our team and the resources entrusted to us, we also realize that at any time, at any instant, things can go wrong.  We realize that one saved building isn’t a far stretch, maybe nine or ten minutes from being a total loss.  While our community relies on the entire system to be good at what we do (through education, prevention, protection, service delivery, and customer care), one slip in the well-oiled chain can wreak havoc on the entire machine.

Not that this is a good time to be paraphrasing Brian Kelly (the head football coach at Notre Dame), but he tells his players that when they are on the field, they are 1/11th of the team. If everyone does their part, things will work according to plan.  When someone doesn’t, someone else has to do MORE than their job to take up the slack.  We can be as proud as we want, but if one person lets us down, we are all toast.  For those reasons alone, a little humility will go a long way when things don’t go as expected.

We tell people in our organization all the time, if you screw up, own the situation.  Raise your hand and say, “My bad” and we’ll do what we can to fix the problem together.  None of us, most of all, me, is perfect.  We’d better be ready and willing to say, “I’m wrong, I’m sorry” when it is warranted.  Our informal motto is, “Do the right thing”.  When you have that kind of an outlook at all times, it can solve many equations.

If your own organization is reaching and it seems frustrating, know that everyone, including the Phoenixes and the FDNYs and the Metro-Dades and the Fairfaxes all have their days.  Just like our department has, and I’m sure your department has.  The element of success, however, is to ride out those days as an intact team, absorb the problems, fix what is necessary, and move forward.  Don’t dwell on the problems, learn from them and move on.

Even the best have their moments, but if you take the time to reflect on what you have accomplished, realize how far you have gotten, and look forward to the trip ahead, the pride in that journey is a significant motivator to keep the team together.  Pride acts as one of many force multipliers.  Like any other tool, use it carefully.

1 Comment

  • andres says:

    Great post. I enjoyed it. Pride as a sense of belonging. I like the idea.
    I aprreciate you point out the difference between being proud and being delusional.
    Funny thing is that I have often thought that pride was the substitute of talent in people lacking the latter.

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