I won't keep you in suspense that long, as I am not a suspense writer. He ended up succeeding and retiring about ten years later on his own terms, more or less. The reason why? Because after I had my conversation with him and outlined my expectations, he was surprised that nobody had ever really sat down and had a similar assessment of his contribution to the organization.
Here was somebody who in his early years did the things he needed to have done, he took his tests, he maintained his certifications, but he wasn't your superstar employee. He wasn't the one showing up at a half-hour before clocking in, or joining special teams, but he was doing a decent enough job and I won't say he was simply filling a spot, because he was indeed better than that, but he wasn't a rock star either.
As it happens, our department back then, and in the form we are now, happened to have a lot of rock stars. Not that there was or is a problem with that, but as supervisors, we have to be careful that while we have high expectations of individuals, we are reasonable in their ability, both physically and mentally, to manage and succeed at that level. If not, we may need to adjust. We might need to be a little more realistic and of course, we may need to go to the Bag O' Tricks and use a different means of motivating this individual.
He had a high sick leave ratio, simple enough; is the problem an actual medical problem, or does he need to go to employee assistance to seek solutions to personal problems? Regardless, I was the first one to literally say: "You have a sick leave problem. We need you here at work. If there is a health problem, we need you to go to a doctor and get it resolved. If there is another problem, we can help with that too. But otherwise, we need you to be here on your assigned day for the assigned length of time. Period."
That might not translate into "altruistic" leadership to you, but remember, sometimes we are too close to our own problems and need to have someone else put it into perspective for us. But if you fail to address the issue, don't be surprised if the issue keeps occurring. Sometimes people need to be pointed gently in a direction, and in this case, he got help.
These issues also carried over to some of the other challenges as well and we were able to resolve those as well. The issue of some of the previous leadership styles, which you might want to understand, involved having inconsistent supervisory expectations.
Department wide, and this has carried over into our current existence, we have always had very high expectations. But what it really comes to, if you dig deeper, is not necessarily an expectation for "Supermen", but an expectation for others share our organizational values. This doesn't translate well to all of us, and there are those of us, myself included, who get mixed up a little in what it is we want from our people. It really comes down to this: I don't need you to be the best firefighter or best medic in the world. I need you to have the attitude that while you may be the best, that we put others first and we work together as a team.
I can teach you to be a better firefighter. I can teach you to be a better medic. I can't teach you to have a better attitude.
Either you are receptive to my teaching you, or you are not. Either you are receptive to being nice to our customers, or you are not.
Either you are receptive to seeing that I am willing to trust you, or you are not. It is all a matter of attitude.
As much as I want my people to exceed, they have somewhat different values. But so long as their work values are the same ones shared by the rest of the team, they should be okay. I didn't need this guy to be a member of Special Ops, or even come out to some of the things we did on the weekends together. I would have liked that, but the reality is that this individual was not a high achiever, and yet he was willing to do everything we needed him to do. He was not striving to be an officer, he didn't want to lead teams, he wanted to fight fire, work on the ill and injured, and drive fire trucks or ambulances. He was also okay with doing all the other more mundane parts of the job and with a smile on his face. But he wasn't lining up to be the next chief.
This individual needed an officer who understood that. He did not, however, need the other type of officer either, the one who given an individual who was not a rising star, was the absolute opposite and expected NOTHING from him. He was not challenged, he could call in sick regularly without any repercussions, he did not train and any number of other problems. This individual needed a leader who could switch tools in the middle of the job if needed.
Ultimately, we got his situation straightened out. His sick leave was reduced to perhaps once a quarter, or less. He actually was inspired by his colleagues to obtain additional certifications and he even showed up to some of the non-mandatory things we do. But the difference was, when we had an issue, we communicated. We worked together to solve the problems and we were both receptive to each others' perspectives. When you can have a relationship where both individuals realize their similarities and their differences, and you can agree to work together, you can achieve much.
Everyone is different. Even family members raised in the same home bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table, and the result of those traits, running up against the challenges faced by living day to day, multiplied by the opportunities to learn something and divided by the blown chances, all factor into the individual's attitude. Humans are much too complicated to have a rote method of managing.
To say that all individuals will respond to good leadership is unrealistic. While we have those who inspire us when we see them excel, there are those that you can give chances to and they'll exploit them every time. But that is when another trick must come out of the bag.