Leadership That Matters, Part 11

So yesterday's post asked you to walk a mile in the shoes of the person calling for help.  We may joke amongst ourselves about some of the more ridiculous-seeming alarms we go on, but those wry comments on the failure of someone to be able to say, shut off the water to their house when there is a broken pipe, should be kept among us as much as possible.  Just because we have been graced with some common sense doesn't mean everyone has and I'm sure there's a day when you'll need help and hope nobody is making jokes about you as well.  Today, however, let's talk about when leaders fail to make good choices.

In keeping with the spirit of the lead paragraph, some people don't even realize they need help, and instead of pointing at them and laughing, we should be showing them the way toward enlightenment.  I don't think that all people who make poor decisions do so out of maliciousness; I really think that poor decisions often come about because of feelings of insecurity (the subject is afraid they will look bad), ego (subject believes they are right), misinformation (subject does not have all the facts), and for other reasons.

Take, for example, this situation shared with us through Dave Statter's site at STAT911.com, where a non-firefighting Fire Commissioner is making a big deal out of not being permitted to use emergency warning lights on his POV. The decision was made to not renew the permit required for this commissioner to have warning lights on his personal vehicle.  The commissioner made interesting comments to the media about the situation, basically threatening the officer, who happened to be exercising some common sense.  The facts of the case are pretty much immaterial; this is an internal issue that has become widely publicized because one individual feels like he didn't get his way.  From the website Courant.com:

The standoff started in January when Rickis, then acting chief, decided not to renew Davis' state-mandated permit to use flashing blue lights on his vehicle, even though he's had the lights for years.  "It was against the law [for Davis] to have it," Rickis explained. "You have to be an active firefighter. It had to be done."  Davis, 64, a Blue Hills Fire District commissioner for 13 years, acknowledges that he retaliated by taking away the department-issued SUV that Rickis uses to respond to fire calls.  "My dumb-ass assistant chief took it upon himself to discontinue my permit," Davis said. "I took his vehicle away because he had no authorization to do what he did."

Just because you THINK you have power, doesn't mean that it is automatically so.  Here is a Fire Commissioner, involved in a petty fight with an officer because he didn't get to leave the blue lights on his car.  If this commissioner had REAL power, he would not have been in the position to have this happen.  There would have been mutual respect between he and the Assistant Chief, good communication, and this may not have ever come to light.  Instead, we have conflict.

Frustration is more often than not, borne of perceived powerlessness.  Frustration leads to many problems, problems that cascade away in the opposite direction from sanity, while traveling through anger, retaliation, and often enough, violence.  As a leader, by having mutual consideration for others includes engaging them in conversation, in understanding their situation, and being able to discuss differences with at least some respect or even just professional courtesy.  The commissioner might very well have a good reason for having blue lights on his car (but aside from the "power" trip it sounds like he gets from having them, probably not).  This guy sounds like he has a real problem with people "not respecting his authority".

While all challenges can be solved by communicating and working together, there are plenty of barriers to communication, and there are plenty of reasons people can give for being irrational.  If you are dealing with someone who can work with you to solve problems, you can avoid issues like these pretty easily.  If not, you have a lot of work ahead of you.  In fact, it may even come down to your having to leave that environment if things get bad enough.

If you always make the "right" decision, you will always have the force of "right" on your side.  This commissioner is so delusional that he thinks that people will listen to his ranting; the Assistant Chief has the power of reason on his side.  Like I said, not all the facts are probably presented here, but even if the commissioner did have the ability to do something to the Assistant Chief, he certainly isn't going to be able to do so now.

Might does not make right.  Doing what is best for the people you serve, your real bosses, does.  If you make decisions based on what is truly good for the community, if tried in the court of public interest, you will always prevail.  The challenge is that this can sometimes be a tricky line to walk.

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