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June 27, 2013
By Les Karpluk

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June 27, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – Why is it that there seems to be a negative connotation around the word accountability. The Webster dictionary defines accountability as “the quality or state of being accountable; and especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.” I prefer to define accountability as-being an adult and accepting responsibility for your actions.

June 27, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – Why is it that there seems to be a negative connotation around the word accountability. The Webster dictionary defines accountability as “the quality or state of being accountable; and especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.” I prefer to define accountability as-being an adult and accepting responsibility for your actions.

I often reflect on the leadership styles of the officers I worked under and how several of them had an uncanny way of ensuring accountability (this is what I call the Principle of Accountability – one of my seven guiding principles) on their platoons. As a platoon, we knew that we would be held accountable for our actions or lack thereof, and when that “unofficial” platoon meeting was held, it really wasn’t a surprise for us because we knew the expectations and we knew when we didn’t meet them. Sure, it was uncomfortable to be part of a platoon meeting at which the message wasn’t always positive, but the reality was that we knew when we fell short.

Could it be that those negative connotations exist because expectations were never clearly identified to those being held accountable? How can we hold others accountable when we have never (or clearly) identified our expectations? Quite simply, we can’t.

As a firefighter I recall exercising some poor judgment and essentially dropped the ball when I should have been more conscientious about my job performance. I knew the expectations and was ready to accept responsibility for my poor performance. As I anticipated the meeting, I dreaded the discomfort and the blow that was surely going to strike my ego. When the “unofficial” meeting was held and I accepted responsibility for my actions, a funny thing happened – the meeting turned into a coaching session rather than the get-my-act together meeting.

This meeting was amazing and, looking back, I knew that I grew as a firefighter and that my officer was more interested in coaching me because of my willingness to accept responsibility for my actions.

I am truly grateful for this officer’s leadership and the way he took the time to hold me accountable for my actions. Sadly, this leader passed away years ago but I will never forget how he looked at the big picture and used accountability to open the door for a coaching session.

When it comes to the principle of accountability, there is little doubt that it is the responsibility of officers to communicate their expectations to subordinates. It doesn’t matter how many bars are on your shoulders, the responsibility lies with officers to communicate department and platoon expectations.

There is an expectation by our external customers (taxpayers and elected officials) that we deliver a life-saving service. There is an expectation by fire chiefs that their departments provide a professional service to the public. Every officer in the fire service must accept the fact that when you wear bars on your shoulders, you must communicate your expectations to subordinates and that you too will be held accountable for your actions. Bars on the shoulder do not excuse an officer for his actions.

Accountability is part of our profession and our personal alarms shouldn’t sound off when we hear the word. Maybe, just maybe, the high level of accountability and expectations in the fire service played a key role in the first-place ranking of firefighters in the 2012 Reader’s Digest Trust Poll.

Until next time, lead from within and grow.

Les Karpluk is fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration program. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes.


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