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Everybody has a boss. I’ve studied bosses, and I’ve noticed that the best predictor of behaviour in an organization is the way the boss behaves.

September 18, 2008 
By Chief Alan Brunacini


Everybody has a boss. I’ve studied
bosses, and I’ve noticed that the best predictor of behaviour in an
organization is the way the boss behaves.

As firefighters, we strive to deliver the best services but we often
have an opportunity to deliver added value to the customer. Every fire
chief gets letters that say, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciated
the patience those [firefighters] showed when they were caring for me.”
We have to remember that beyond all the technical innovations, the
customer is more likely to remember a simple act of kindness.

Firefighters do many things that may not be in the handbook, but these
added-value items deliver a level of service to the customer that is
hard to beat. This level of service must be embraced by every level of
the organization. The relationships we have inside the organization are
the foundation for how we deliver service to Mrs. Smith.

Workers and bosses connect in a personal and direct way. The boss is
the major reference person for workers and represents the organization.
The boss/worker relationship is a critical part of organizational
behaviour and performance because it creates the “stuff” that gets
acted out at Mrs. Smith’s house. How does firefighter Smith treat Mrs.
Smith? For the answer go look and see how Chief Smith treats
firefighter Smith.


Normal evolution
We need our company officers to be good bosses. We’re at an interesting
point in the fire service. Experienced officers are leaving and young
kids are taking their places. While this is a normal evolution, it’s a
challenge for us to make sure these kids are up to the task.
Unfortunately, there often is not much training, direction or
information on how to be a good boss.

How do firefighters learn to be good bosses? I’d be willing to bet a
lot of fire service officers would say, “I wish someone had told me
this. . . ”  

Teamwork and respect in the department and the community help to boost the image of
the fire service. How the community views the department is crucial to
its success, says Alan Brunacini.

I have spent 50 years taking notes
about things. Over the years, my notes on bosses turned into my
functional boss behaviours book. I recently partnered with TargetSafety
( in the U.S., and Medteq Solutions in Canada ( to put this content online because I think it’s our responsibility to share with young officers the lessons we’ve learned.

I’ve boiled it down to a set of 10 behaviours that support and assist workers in delivering added value directly to Mrs. Smith:

1. Taking care of the customers
Much of our focus is on customers. When we connect with them, we should
deliver the best possible service to them. So the magnetic north that
we talk about in this program has to do with what we are doing,
managing or creating.  Does it have impact on Mrs. Smith?

2. Taking care of the workers
The relationships inside the organization are the launch pad for how we
deliver services. The behaviour of the boss is the most powerful thing
in the everyday environment in our organizations. If bosses don’t take
care of workers, how can we expect the workers to take care of Mrs.

3. Build trust or go home
Trust is a basic part of any relationship and is what connects the boss
to the worker and to Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith trusts us because we
respond quickly, solve her problem and we’re nice to her. The workers
trust Boss Smith because he responds quickly, solves the problem and
has a supportive relationship with the workers. Bosses must foster,
develop and then refine the trust relationship inside the system to
provide the best service outside the organization.

4. Sweat the big stuff
The priority for every boss is that everyone goes home. The routine
stuff is important and ensures we are ready for the tough stuff but the
boss’s focus should be on the critical stuff that allows us to deliver
service and survive that service. We should work backward from there.

5. Set the workers free
When we become bosses, we gain authority and power that we use to
create order, deliver service and take care of the workers. One of the
best things a boss can do with that authority is empower workers to be
independent and self-directed. This is an expression of trust in an
organization and helps create an effective, integrated group.

6. Play your position
Organizations consist of three levels: strategic; tactical; and task.
For the organization to be effective, each level must be independently
functional and capable and they must be interconnected. The challenge
here is to knit the levels together in a way that connects them to each
other but points the organization toward the customer.

7. Keep fixin’ the system
We operate within a model of improvement. We follow procedures to
deliver service and then critique the outcome. That model is boss
driven. Bosses must continually look at SOPs, training and themselves
to improve organizational performance.

8. Loyal disobedience/insubordination
The firefighters – the workers – have the best set of perceptions,
experiences and connections to Mrs. Smith, and often they have ideas
about how to improve service. A willingness to make suggestions is a
mature form of organizational commitment and respect.

9. Anatomy and physiology
Every boss has strengths and weaknesses. A boss’s personal
effectiveness depends on how the boss uses his skills and capabilities.
This is where a boss and a worker come together. Small improvements in
the boss’s personal effectiveness can produce big-time results in the
boss/worker relationship.

10. Don’t do dumb stuff
Workers can identify anything the boss does that is self-serving or stupid, and this can be destructive in an organization.
This simple stuff can quickly get complicated when it’s ignored.

I’ve never figured out how to change somebody’s attitude but I’ve
noticed if you can change someone’s behaviour, the attitude will change
over time. I don’t think you do that with leadership. You do that with
an online, present, conscious, engaged boss. The most powerful way
bosses can affect how effective and connected the workers are is by
regulating and managing their own behaviour.

Chief Alan Brunacini retired from the Phoenix Fire Department in 2006 
after 48 years. For information on Brunacini’s functional boss
behaviours training course, visit

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