Leadership Forum: November 2016
By Matt Pegg
I am thrilled to write for Fire Fighting in Canada. The aim of my column will be to share some of the more interesting questions that I have been asked by those working hard to advance their fire-services careers, along with my perspective on the issue.
“I’m just not lucky.” How many times have you heard that, or more importantly, how many times have you thought, believed or said that yourself? Could it possibly be true that our ability to achieve career success is largely dependent upon luck?
The short answer is yes, but not for reasons you may think. I am a strong believer in luck, but only when it is viewed from a much different perspective than the dictionary definition. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines luck as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity;” an accurate definition for sure, but are our careers dependent upon “a force that brings good fortune or adversity”? I hope not.
I choose to see luck in a manner very similar to that of Randy Pausch. Pausch was a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University who lost a hard-fought battle against pancreatic cancer in 2008. In his book The Last Lecture, Pausch defines the concept of luck in a striking way: he suggests that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. That sure sounds a lot different than simply hanging out until the stars align, until your ship comes in or until luck starts to come your way. Luck is not the result of some mystical set of invisible dice that are rolling, to which we must succumb and submit.
Achieving your career goals in today’s very competitive, very complex fire services requires relentless preparation. Without adequate preparation, exciting opportunities will surely be missed. I believe that your preparation is within your control and that individuals determine whether they see opportunities coming, how to recognize them and where and when to look for them. Many genuine opportunities are not necessarily above you – many will be lateral to and even beneath your current position.
The path to your ultimate career goal may not form a straight line. In fact, your path may well resemble a winding road that covers a lot of different ground. While it is true that most people who enter the fire service tend to finish their fire service careers with the same department or service with which they started, that is certainly not the case for everyone today. Increasingly, we are seeing fire service leaders move from position to position and department to department. Mobility is a reality in today’s career environment and while it still may be somewhat uncommon within the fire service, it is both normal and even expected in other professions. Don’t be afraid to look outside your “home” for opportunities that might present themselves.
Today’s fire services are extremely competitive. The straight truth is that we will not succeed unless we are fully prepared – fully prepared not only to engage and thrive in the recruitment or promotional process that is necessary to put us in the position that we seek, but also fully prepared to actually perform the duties of that position with confidence and competence. Being underprepared will always end in disappointment.
Today’s fire services are changing at a rapid pace; there may be no more exciting time to take on a leadership role than right now. In fact, the demand for transformational change within fire services is both palpable and obvious.
As leaders, we need to be leading improvements in fire services inclusion and equity. We need to be seeking out opportunities to maximize efficient and effective service delivery. We need to be creating ways to teach our next company officers and our next chief officers how to lead people in an ever-changing world. These are but three of the nearly unlimited opportunities for change that exist right now.
In reality, change opportunities are literally endless and can also seem both exciting and even daunting. Is that what you seek? If so, is your commitment to personal preparation aligned with your goals? Are you prepared for the next opportunity that comes along? Are you prepared to seek out and identify transformational change?
Success happens when relentless preparation meets opportunity.
Are you feeling lucky?
Matthew Pegg is interim fire chief with Toronto Fire Services, having previously served in Georgina, Ajax and Brampton, Ont. Pegg was president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs from 2013 to 2016 and has served on the national advisory council to the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org