Leadership Forum: March 2010
It is with enthusiasm and great anticipation that we co-write this column. Our friendship and journey into the challenges of leadership in the fire service began several years ago when we were classmates in the Lakeland College bachelor of business in emergency services program.
March 15, 2010
By Lyle Quan Les Karpluk
It is with enthusiasm and great anticipation that we co-write this column. Our friendship and journey into the challenges of leadership in the fire service began several years ago when we were classmates in the Lakeland College bachelor of business in emergency services program. As we discussed our assignments, we found that even though we are from different parts of the country, many of our staffing, service and leadership issues were similar. We tend to have the same mindset on leadership and its challenges and in 2010 we will be reframing our futures as writers for Fire Fighting in Canada.
In our first column, it is only fitting to write about reframing your future on an organizational and personal level. Reframing the future of the fire service begins with hiring the right people and taking the steps to change a negative culture into a positive, proactive culture. There is a tendency in the fire service to overlook the importance of the recruitment process. Whether a career or volunteer department, the recruitment process sets the foundation for the future. Hire the right people and the probability of having issues with them is greatly reduced; hire the wrong people and the department will inevitably be dealing with issues caused by those people. We know there are no surprises in these statements, as we have yet to talk to a fire chief who has not had to deal with some type of personnel problem.
Over the years, there has been a focus on firefighter competency skills as a foundational element for the recruit, which leaves a huge gap for those interpersonal and intrapersonal skills required by today’s firefighter.
We all appreciate employees who get along with people at all levels; therefore, we need to seek out employees who have these good interpersonal skills, such as communication, problem solving and teamwork abilities. These skills enable you to work with others in a friendly and efficient manner. When it comes to new employees, we can easily incorporate interview questions that will help us understand the level of the candidate’s intrapersonal/motivational skills
Intrapersonal intelligence is defined as the ability to understand what motivates you, what makes you get up in the morning and what you truly believe in. Understanding our intrapersonal intelligence leads to the self-understanding needed to work effectively with others. Evaluating or getting a glimpse of a recruit’s aptitude in this area is easier said than done but this is just as critical as firefighter competencies.
When Lyle and I have presented to our peers, our focus often comes back to the need to understand who we are, what our staff expects from us and what we expect from our people. One of our joint presentations was titled “Your people – support them or abandon them.” In this presentation we discussed the need to hire the right people based on their technical and personal skills and we touched on how to help your present employees by giving them the tools they require. Many people refer to these tools as “soft skills” but, as another fire chief noted, these really are the “hard skills” because our type “A” personalities make us more action oriented than relationship oriented.
The other challenge is to develop and hone these skills in our present employees. Sure, it’s easy to place this responsibility on the fire chief but the chief is not in the best position to develop these skills. The chief can take the necessary steps to educate and develop employees but this is just one step in developing these soft skills in employees. We need to use all our talent, which means training and supporting our front-line officers in the skills and challenges relating to coaching and mentoring.
If we fail to develop these personal skills in our people, the department spends unnecessary time communicating, problem solving and developing the team. Whether in management, union or the volunteer ranks, the development of these essential skills is a key to reframing our future. The future of the profession belongs to those who understand and grasp this concept.
So, a challenge to all chief officers: we need to ensure that our people have all the tools required to do the job. We need to reach out to those departments that have incorporated these skills into the recruitment process and the training syllabus for their present employees. Take advantage of the network available within the fire chiefs associations – they have a lot to offer and they can also become a conduit for sharing our lessons learned.
It’s easy to call yourself a leader but are you doing everything needed to ensure that your staff are physically, intellectually and emotionally prepared to do their jobs? From east to west, our communities and our staff deserve this from our profession.
Les Karpluk is the fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan.
Lyle Quan is a deputy chief with the Guelph Fire Department in Ontario. Both are graduates of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services and Dalhousie University’s fire administration program.
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