Are You the Company Officer Your Firefighters Need?

BY STEPHEN MORRIS

How do you measure up as the officer of your company? Are you what your company firefighters need? Many officers are promoted without an idea of what being a company officer means. They seem to think the authority, power, and knowledge needed will come with the promotion and the badge. The truth is that if the officer wants his company to excel, he must be a great leader, one who can get things accomplished without having to rely on the power and authority of the position. The officer must provide the members with vision and inspiration and be able to influence them to work toward a common vision.

I have found some approaches that have helped me to develop as an effective company officer. I share them with you.

Have a vision, and share it. A vision is necessary if the fire department and company officer are to accomplish the goal effectively. A company officer must be able to visualize where the company is going and how to get there. The officer must determine the purpose for the desired accomplishment, decide on the standards and guidelines (values) under which the vision is to be accomplished, and be able to imagine the end product.1

Purpose and values are the heart and soul of the vision. Be crystal clear when communicating the values associated with the vision. Values add meaning to the vision’s purpose. Followers will support and work toward a vision with which they connect; otherwise, they will have little to no motivation to work toward the vision. It is the officer’s responsibility to share and provide insight into the vision. If the company officer does not provide the vision of success, the followers will not know what success looks like.2

Know your audience, and communicate. The company officer must know the people he is asking to follow him—their backgrounds, where they are coming from, where they want to go, how they receive information, what motivates them, and what they dislike. Not all of an officer’s personnel will receive information in the same way. The officer may need to adjust his approach or communication style to be effective. The key to being a great leader is communicating effectively. You do this by doing your homework and knowing how your followers best receive information.3

Communication gives the company officer the power to build and maintain relationships. The officer must be able to provide and pass on passion and enthusiasm for the vision, to make it more inviting for members to follow. The company officer must help his followers to see that the impossible is possible. With his words, he can inspire or discourage, hurt or help, divide or connect, cause fear or give hope.4 The company officer must ensure his communication is effective and that he is relaying the desired message, providing all the necessary and appropriate details, and that he is maintaining the motivation and focus of his personnel through regular communication.

Set the example. You may have the most desirable vision, but you won’t stand a chance of success unless you can inspire others to follow you in working toward that vision.5 You do this best by setting the example in your actions, ethics, and work habits, which should be consistent with the values and the vision.6 The personal action of the company officer is paramount to building successful relationships with his followers.7 People will follow an officer who walks the talk because they believe what they see more than what they hear. Part of setting the example is putting the interest of the organization and the followers before the officer’s interests.

Empower others. Share your power with others under your influence. Empowering others to complete tasks has a rippling effect. Empowering employees enables the employee to develop a mindset that identifies with empowerment, which improves creativity and motivation.8 Empowered followers have self-perceptions of competence and of having influence in their jobs and work environments, which make them more proactive and willing to complete their responsibilities in innovative ways. When empowering others, ensure that they have the power to make decisions to achieve the desired results. This may mean having to provide additional training and increasing access to information. Empowerment enables workers to see more value in their contributions, to feel as though they have control of their environment; they become more productive.9

Give recognition. A study involving 1,500 employees indicated that the most motivating aspect of their job was the recognition they received for their accomplishments, outweighing even monetary incentives.10 A company officer who gives recognition to an employee increases the employee’s job satisfaction. Employees who have high job satisfaction are more productive and tend to be more loyal to the organization. It is the officer’s responsibility to build a common organizational personality and a community spirit that promote admiration and recognition. Persons who feel appreciated are more positive and more willing to contribute to the vision. Recognize members for results achieved, teamwork, problems found and solved, customer service, creativity and innovation, and safe work behaviors. Creating an environment where people know they will be appreciated will create success for the company officer.

Think outside of the box. Move out of your comfort zone to find innovative solutions for new or existing problems. Encourage innovative thinking to create radical ideas and initiatives. Many find doing this difficult because they are familiar and comfortable with their culture and way of thinking. If the company officer is unwilling to support creative thinking, the creative minds within the organization will close or even leave the organization.11 As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

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As the company officer, you will be faced with many responsibilities, but you must be committed to the process. You can’t take off the leader shirt at the end of the day and put it back on in the morning. You must be a leader all the time. To be that great company officer, you must be looking to improve yourself whenever the chance arises. Becoming a great company officer does not just happen. You must be willing to put in time and effort to become the great leader your company deserves.

Endnotes

1. Zigarmi, D. “Just leadership: Creating a values-driven community.” Leader to Leader. 2008:33-38.

2. LaBrosse, M. “Project management: The traction of success.” Employee Relations Today. 2008:83-87.

3. Wyche, K.R. “Preparation: The key to great leadership.” Leader to Leader. 2008:11-14.

4. Bethel, S.M. “New breed of leader: They cultivate eight qualities.” Leadership Excellence 2009: 3-4.

5. Kouzes, J.M. and B.Z. Posner. “The five practices of exemplary leadership.” Business Leadership. Ed. J.V. Gallos. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2008 26-34.

6. Turk, W. “Manager or leader?” Defense AT&L. 2007:20-22.

7. Taulbert, C.L. “Slow down to lead.” Leader to Leader 2008.47, 2008:36-40.

8. Zhang, X. and K.M. Bartol. “Linking empowering leadership and employee creativity: The influence of psychological empowerment, intrinsic motivation, and creative process engagement.” Academy of Management Journal. 2010.47, 53:1,107-128.

9. Boudrias, J., et al. “Employee empowerment: From managerial practices to employee’s behavioral empowerment.” Leadership & Organizational Development Journal 30.7 2009:625-638.

10. Robbins, S.P. and TA Judge. Organizational Behavior. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2009.

11. Marques, J.F. “The reciprocity between spirituality in the workplace and thinking outside the box.” The Business Renaissance 2.3. 2007:93-117.

STEPHEN MORRIS, a 22-plus-year veteran of the fire service, is a captain with the Harrisonburg (VA) Fire Department and an adjunct fire instructor for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs. He has a B.S. degree in fire science and an M.A. in management and leadership from Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia. He is a graduate of the Virginia Fire Officer Academy.

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