The FNG

I was someplace the other day and ran into this guy who I remembered from my very young days as a rookie firefighter.  I was in my Class A, which has a few shiny things on it, as well as 32 years worth of Maltese crosses on the sleeve. So I guess I looked moderately important, I don't know. But the guy Introduced himself and asked me if I knew who he was and I responded that I did.  And he proceeded to act like I was his new best friend, because he cornered me to chat for a while. 

Unfortunately, the reason I remember him is because when I was a rookie firefighter, he wouldn't give me the time of day.  Fortunately, I am well past the point in my life where I would have held that against him.  In a way, even, I feel sorry for him.  When I retire, I would hope people spoke of me fondly and reverently, but in this case, I'd bet not many of my colleagues knew who this individual was, nor did they care.  He was pretty important in his time, but I also remember the wedges he drove between people in order to further his agenda.  

As a brand new member, I remember that I had time and energy to contribute and I wanted to be involved, yet my help was unwelcome. I know now that it had more about my being a firefighter than about me personally (this was in a third-party EMS setting), but it still stung at the time.  This brings me to the question of how we treat our new personnel.  While it is one thing to accord a certain amount of ambivalence to the new guys until they can earn your attention, it is a whole different issue to just be disrespectful and dismissive.  Remember those guys who had a little power and exerted it on you just because they could?  The ones who were big fish in a small puddle and the way they got their power fix was to take it out on you?  That, my friends, defines bullying behavior.  That, my friends also defines a hostile workplace.  These days, not only is it boorish behavior, it is against the law.  

I am not saying you need to have a group hug and a round of Kumbaya.  A good leader should simply be fair, understanding, and even objectively detached, while being there to guide and mentor.  You don't need to be the FNG's new best buddy, and in fact, that would be a huge mistake.  You need to be the designated adult supervision, which means you need to act professional and display behavior you would like to see emulated by your new member.

So while my ego may have suffered a bruise over the years, I lived to tell about it.  I can even laugh about it now. The good thing I took from it though, was that I wouldn't treat other people like that and if anything, like any other bad situation, instead of dwelling on it I learned to grow through it.  Be open-minded and receptive to lessons learned in adversity, and it will make you a stronger leader.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Battalion Chief with Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire and 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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