Belief At The Point of A Gun

I was, as is frequently the case when driving for more than a half-hour, listening to the Bob Edwards Show.  He was interviewing Jeff Sharlet, the author of the book Sweet Heaven When I Diewhich as he puts it, is about "belief, unbelief, and the country in between".  Mr. Sharlet told a story which put some context into a situation where a gunman, supposedly "possessed by demons", opened fire inside of a church in North Carolina.

As he describes it, Sharlet was interviewing the sheriff in the county in which this event occurred and as I take it, was struggling with understanding, or believing, in how demonic possession was even being seriously discussed in this day and age.  Apparently, the sheriff reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a gun, which he pointed at Mr. Sherlet. After explaining that the gun was actually a toy, the Sheriff related that if the reverse had happened, any respectable law enforcement officer would have shot you. Things may not be real, he shared, but just because they're not real doesn't mean they can't hurt you.

Here at Firehouse Zen we spend a pretty good amount of time discussing context and perspective, if anything, because it sits at the heart of many miscommunications and misunderstandings.  Leaders have to contend with these issues daily and while some of the issues may not even be real issues, but instead, gossip, rumors, and innuendo, the issues still must be dealt with.  In the eyes of those who don't have the facts to begin with, any fact is more concrete than no fact.

Leaders must get ahead of that curve and educate their people.  They must build a relationship of trust and they must understand that while there are people in their organization who thrive on "stirring the pot", the enlightened leader must stay ahead of the game and insure total transparency to avoid those kinds of issues.  And even then, like happens in our organization, you can be as transparent as possible and still have to endure the few shit-stirrers. 

People believe what they want to believe.  If you were an organization who strives for excellence, considers every issue carefully and logically to ensure maximum accountability for every fiscal decision, follows policies to the "T", and seeks alternative funding sources and resource sharing to ease the burden on the taxpayers, you would still have the fringe out there taking shots at you.  And that hurts, but especially in this day and age when anonymity protects cowards and weasels on the internet, it continues to be a fact of life and a serious downside to leading.

Not only are you at the top when you lead, but you are also the most vulnerable to being taken out.  Ask the families and friends of every leader who tried to make serious change, and you will find them to be able to relate all avenues of retaliation, humility, anger, and other hostile emotions having been directed at those individuals, and not excluding physical harm and even assassination.

Being a leader isn't just lonely, sometimes, it is harmful to your health.  Belief is a strong emotion and whatever people believe has got to be addressed in one form or another.  But the safest way to manage the beliefs of others is through honesty, transparency, and honorable values.  Setting a positive example through ethical actions will tend to win out in the end, or at least it does in the movies.

  • Shane

    Great post Chief! I would add that much of this also goes for our relationship, as a service, with the public. The more transparent your organization is with the taxpayer the more likely they will support you when you need it. As a service I believe we are still hiding too much and hoping for the best when we need help.

  • Mick Mayers

    Thanks for your comment and for reading.  I wrote this the day before and yesterday, lived it.  Having to deal with negative personalities is draining to me, but even more so, the helplessness of those who have been empowered but refuse to move forward is frustrating to me.  I wish someone had let ME off the leash early in my career. I guess for some people, its like having the invisible fence on for so long, you don't go near the edge of the yard for fear you'll be zapped.
    The taxpayers too, are a curious breed these days.  I think everyone is angry and frustrated, and of course, as we continue to shoot ourselves in our collective feet, we make it that much easier for the public to come after us.

  • Jon Marsh

    Chief, there seems to be a very thin line between shit stirrers and leaders….each are trying to sell or instill a belief that is opposite one another. One believes you should while the other believes you should not.  Are you saying that the individual with black and white written proof along with honest, honorable values and good work ethics should be the leader ?  The one who stirs the pot often has a better brew too offer but is shun by the leader for any number of reasons. Sometimes when we offer our ideas or ideals with sincere passion and conviction, we are simply foo-foo's according to the most popular political view at the time. Doesn't matter how large or small a venue we serve, one must be open at all times to all ideas until proven that one or another isn't ethical…take the fire sprinkler issue…the what I call 100 year war.   There are actually Fire Chief's, officers and firefighters who believe fire sprinkler systems will be the demise of their jobs ! So  they remain closed mouth an indifferent about the issue—they call it being transparent about the issue. 

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

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