Leadership That Matters, Part 1

Altruism is the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.  Another definition of altruism is the behavior of an animal that benefits another at its own expense. 

We in emergency service like to believe that our work is done for the betterment of mankind.  We talk about the “supreme sacrifice” and wear shirts that say, “We fight what you fear.” We tell people that our bond is based on “brotherhood’. These are all words that suggest a higher calling, something more about us and our comrades that perhaps places us above others in a moral hierarchy, short of sainthood but above the common man.

There are those among us that throw these statements out there pretty casually, considering actions we hear about routinely. Firefighters using their positions to steal from a fire company treasury.  EMTs who are charged and convicted of preying on the vulnerable. Officers who permit subordinates to misuse their community trust.  Too many heartbreaking stories in a group of people who pride themselves on being honorable, valorous, and having a great deal of integrity.

In our business, in emergency service, we have many who state emphatically that they are on this job for purely altruistic reasons.  While volunteerism, perhaps, places a subject closer to that definition, I suggest that there are still benefits of volunteerism that we don’t think of, that don’t keep us in that category.  Conversely, there are those who suggest that as a career emergency responder that we do not embrace altruistic behavior, that our efforts are mercenary.  And while the reward is a paycheck, I suggest that this also does not limit us from the category either.

The definitions of altruism escape conventional thinking.  We don’t know what is in the hearts of others.  We don’t know what drives and motivates those who serve along with us.  We know what we are told, and we may have reason to believe those reasons.  I do, know people, however, who would wordlessly “step in front of a bullet” for a stranger; and I know people who talk a good talk, but are the first to run when any mention of even menial sacrifice surfaces.  There are big differences, then, in what we say and what we do in regard to altruism.

What drives you?  What about our job inspires you to continue, day to day, to perform dangerous, distasteful, uncomfortable tasks that challenge your own limits?

I wanted to begin a discussion on leadership that matters, focusing on the merits and drawbacks of transformational leadership as it relates to our job and to society as a whole.  I can't put a number on the conversations that will come from this, but I can say that we could focus on the subject for years and only scratch the surface.  The idea, however, is that there are too many out there who are like zombies, walking along from point to point, disengaged from others, and singly focused on their own comfort, their own needs, and on making their lives more comfortable on the backs of others.  For these reasons, maybe if I can reach a few, I can create an avalanche.  One can only hope.  Feel free to comment at any time and share what you see.

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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.

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Recent Posts
Blood On Our Hands December 21, 2014
Career Change December 13, 2014
Think Fast November 29, 2014
Comments
Mick Mayers
Someone I Would Have Liked To Have Known
Ruth, Thanks for the comment, although like Tom said, you missed my point. What I was saying is that I am honored and impressed that someone who not so long ago would not have been given a chance - for reasons of race and gender- was given those accolades. She is someone I would have…
2014-12-12 11:24:00
Tom Bouthillet
Someone I Would Have Liked To Have Known
There are plenty of white males who don't deserve to be firefighters. The most qualified individual should get the job regardless of race or gender. That doesn't always happen for a variety of reasons that don't need to be hashed out here. But way to miss Chief Mayers' point entirely.
2014-12-11 12:08:00
Ruth Phillips
Someone I Would Have Liked To Have Known
I've heard of all of these "substandard candidates brought in to fill a role" taking the jobs from those who truly "desire the job and are willing to embrace the lifestyle of a firefighter." Do you mean people of color and women taking the jobs from the more deserving, uh, white male? I'm baffled as…
2014-12-11 04:21:00
drydiggins
Think Fast
My best friend once described flying in 'hard' IFR like being inside a giant ping-pong ball... everywhere you look, featureless white. I've appropriated that to describe people who seem to go through life in their own personal ping-pong balls. Apropos of the bumper sticker "I can't see you so don't pretend to be there."
2014-12-09 04:21:00
Mick Mayers
Leadership That Matters, Part 7
George, Thanks for reading! Yes, I'll actually do that this week. And I actually downloaded that same meme myself a few days ago- I like it.
2014-12-06 15:25:00

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Although I am affiliated or employed by certain entities, I in no way speak in this forum or others on behalf of those entities unless I have specifically stated such. Any implication otherwise is doing so contrary to my agreements with those entities. The result is that the observations and opinions by myself or on behalf of Firehouse Zen are not sanctioned by any other entity other than Graffiti Train Sherpa Publications and are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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