You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past.
You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it.
You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.
— Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash had it right when he stated that you need to close the door on the past. We learn from our mistakes and leaders want to prevent others from making their mistakes. After all, the school of hard knocks is not the best way to learn.
There are 3 mistakes officers can do that will impact their career, health, and personal life. Avoid these and learn from the mistakes of others.
#1 – Putting The Profession Before Your Family
It doesn’t matter how passionate we are about the profession (and we should be) but living and breathing the fire service can take its toll. Today, leadership authorities state that today’s leaders need to be more empathetic and lead with their hearts. There is much to be said about this (and I agree with the concept), but leading with your heart also makes you vulnerable.
At times this vulnerability is paid in the emotional wear and tear of the job. And, you do take it home whether you want to or not. Why?
Because you are not a machine, you are a human being and your brain does not have a switch to turn it on and off at liberty. Just think about the last time something disturbed you at the firehouse and recall that you took some (or all of it) home with you in your attitude, body language, tone of voice or withdrawal from those you love.
As much as we want to believe that the profession is about “brotherhood” the evidence can at times give a different picture.
Once you take on the officer role, you really are not part of the gang any longer and the open invitation to vent or talk to someone is greatly diminished or eliminated.
It truly is great that the fire service lives and breathes the Brotherhood philosophy (and it should), but far too often officers are left to struggle on their own when facing career and personal problems. Part of the problem is that officers simply do not want to show weakness by admitting they need help.
This is just wrong! But take heart — because our families are there to help us through these challenges, if and only if we have put them above the profession. Sounds like common sense, but too many officers put the profession before their families.
At the end of the day, when you leave the profession, you are a distant memory.
“Family comes first” needs to be more than a mantra or superficial statement. It must be lived and demonstrated every day to those we love.
#2 – Failing To Recognize The 80/10/10 Rule
This is a twist to the Pareto 80-20 rule. You know, the rule where you get 80 percent of your productivity from 20 percent of your staff. The new twist is that 80 percent of those in the fire service are in it for the right reasons, while 10 percent need some guidance along the way, and the other 10 percent need to leave the fire service.
It’s easy to get sucked into allocating 80 percent of your time to the 10 percent who are not interested in following the department’s mandate, goals or objectives. And, this 10 percent really needs to find another profession that suits them.
But the problem is that significant time and energy (80 percent) is put into helping them realize that they need to fall in line with the department.
This may sound harsh but too many officers are spending too much time on the too few that really don’t care, and others are noticing. There is nothing worse that having the 80 percent of firefighters recognize that their officers are spending valuable time, energy, and resources on the 10 percent that really don’t give a rip.
Recognize the 80/10/10 rule, cut the noose and set the troubled 10 percent free.
#3 – Forgetting About Your Health
Heart attacks, stroke and cancer continue to impact the profession. Why?
Is it really asking too much to have firefighters be physically fit? For career departments there are more opportunities to get involved in physical fitness programs as the IAFF and IAFC have worked diligently to promote the IAFF/IAFC Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative. This is a great thing!
Maybe (a bet I am willing to make) lives will be saved if physical fitness requirements and medical exams are required for every member of the fire department. And, this must include Chief Officers.
There are simply too many stories of cancer, high blood pressure, and other medical problems being discovered in firefighters because they had a required medical check.
It’s time to take our health seriously and move past the fear of physical fitness and mandatory medical examinations.
It’s time to quit smoking and stop making excuses on why you can’t.
Without our health we can’t give 100% to our family and profession. And I’m sure no firefighter or chief officer wants to perform at a sub par level.
Cover photo courtesy of Rob Evans, graphics courtesy of Les Karpluk and www.foter.com.