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Jan. 14, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. – There is much truth to the saying that time does not stand still. Embarrassingly, it has been a couple of months since I sat down to blog.

In October, our son bought a house and took possession of it on Nov. 1. The home required some (a nice understatement) renovations before he could move in and with four weeks to plan before the possession date, we thought we were on top of things.

As I write this I am chuckling; renovations remind me a lot of leadership and how we think we are on top of things, yet reality gives us a good kick in the butt and we find out that we miscalculated on our plans.

To make light of our renovation journey and the realities of being a leader in the fire service, I present a simple renovation/leadership analogy.

  • Have a vision: I truly believe that when beginning the renovation journey you must be able to see in your minds eye what the final product will look like. As leadership guru Stephen Covey often said, “Start with the end in mind.” Sounds simple right? Well, not so fast. Unfortunately, when you have two or three people with different ideas on what the house should look like, it causes nothing but stress and communication breakdowns. At times I swear it was like negotiating and trying to find common ground. And, now that I think of it, at the end when we all agreed on the vision, it was very easy to move forward and start the work.
  • Communicate regularly: I know, I know, this is a simple leadership practice and a no brainer, but when the family is taking shifts demolishing, rebuilding, painting, laying floor, etc., it’s easy to get caught up in the action and forget to communicate effectively. It’s no secret that when communication breaks down the project plan is difficult to follow and, somewhere along the renovation journey, somebody forgets to communicate a key message, and then comes the big surprise. Oh yes, the big surprise. If you have been involved in renovations you know exactly what I am talking about. This reminds me of some of the whooper communication breakdowns I was involved in as a fire chief. Looking back, when people are busy, it's easy to forget to communicate a key message. This doesn’t excuse the oversight, but because we are human it just happens sometimes. Not unlike renovations, in leadership it's critical to communicate daily and let everyone know how the day’s activities will take you closer to your vision.
  • Expect setbacks: Ouch, I hated even typing that but setbacks are a fact of life. Plans do not always go as intended and when you start tearing things apart, you often find something else that needs replacing or repairing. A call to a plumber to check out the furnace resulted in scheduling a new furnace installation. It really wasn’t a big surprise, but it did have an impact to the renovation budget and some adjustments had to be made. This really isn’t any different than being a leader in the fire service. There are going to be setbacks, some of them minor, some of them major, and some of them just because you have ventured into the realm of leadership and the old furnace simply isn’t efficient any longer and needs to be replaced.
  • Keep moving forward: I must confess that there were some days when I would ask myself, “What the heck was I thinking?” Hey, a father’s job is to be there for his kids, but the stretch of 14-hour days caught up quickly and when every room in the house needed work, it sure felt like the project scope grew and the end was nowhere to be found. It didn’t matter how many hours were put into the renovations, it just seemed like we were not making any headway. There were certainly frustrating periods on the renovations, but we kept moving forward and little by little we were getting closer to the vision.
  • Take some time off: For many of us, this is a big hurdle in our lives, however, the importance of just getting away for a while cannot be overstated. When I found that going to my son’s house was not fun anymore, I took several days off. It was hard because I knew how much work was left to do and that we still had a long way to go before the inside of the house actually looked like a house. But, the time away was great for the soul and when I started to work on the house again, it was fun! There is a nice leadership lesson there, and upon reflection, I wish I took more time away from the chief’s office and made it a goal to recharge my batteries.

The renovations are almost complete and it has certainly been a journey for our family. There is still some work to do but just like with leadership, it’s not in arriving at the destination, it’s all about the journey and the journey is truly what we make of it.

Les Karpluk is the retired 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 and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes

January 14, 2015  By Les Karpluk

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