BY ALAN BRUNACINI
In our last installment, we started a discussion about a writing and teaching project I am currently involved in where I have attempted to create a simple, basic set of categories of the major skills a boss must have to be effective. It seems to me that we can do better and be better if we develop and apply a regular approach to doing the majority of things that are involved in performing as a boss. I call this project “No-Brainer Management.” I have discovered that attempting to create a short description of what a manager does requires going the long way around a lot of the complex things people do to first of all control themselves so they can somehow manage and lead anything and anyone else. Writing this in very simple terms is a little like the attempt to try to put a slippery oyster in a slot machine.
Let’s use the analogy of training a football player. That person would play better if we first taught him the basic skills-run, block, tackle, throw, catch, and do his part in executing plays that produce touchdowns. If the player captured that set of basic (No-Brainer) football playing skills, it would create the foundation for the player’s applying those capabilities to the majority of what is required to just play the game. The execution of these skills would also provide the foundation for effectively adapting to the novel, nonregular situations that naturally occur when you hike the ball and start playing.
A football player and a boss both depend on developing the basic skills to effectively respond to a set of regular, predictable recurring situations. This comparison is a good one because, in fact, most days being a boss actually resembles being a football player (a violent, contact sport with a lot of grunting and groaning, requiring an effective team response that require plays, moves, and formations led by a boss). Effectively and happily getting through life involves becoming competent in doing a basic set of performance skills over and over. When I remember the really good bosses I worked for, I remember they made what they did seem simple because they consistently did the basic things well right where and when the problem was solved. I never realized how challenging it was to put out the fire (as they did) because they did the good boss stuff so well and made it look easy-until I tried to do it myself. I guess that’s why you call a pro a pro.
Category 1: Personal Effectiveness
Personal effectiveness is the first category of the six No-Brainer categories I established for the major skills of a boss based on my pocket notes. (The other five are inside/outside customer connection, performance management, behavior management, organizational alignment, and creation of a positive organizational environment.)
Personal effectiveness is critical because bosses will perform based on their basic personal capability and how they are able to develop and continuously improve their personality and then use those personal skills to control their behavior. Our personal effectiveness is the result of the “raw material” we received at the human assembly plant and then the way that we refine our own personal development. We will be effective as a boss based on how we manage our personal approach. I call that overall approach “personality.” A leader’s behavior has a direct impact on the workers and the work they produce, and how you act is about the only thing you can really control.
I have socialized with workers in our business for the past 50 years and listened to them in and out of class describe the love and hate affairs they have with their bosses. Those happy/sad descriptions are the result of that boss’s personal/professional relationship to the worker. The workers describe how their bosses use their organizational power and their personality to either negatively control or positively motivate them. A really easy way to evaluate a person is to give him power, particularly power over you. In fact, you will understand better than anyone else the real nature of a person when you are his/her subordinate. The inmates know the guards better than anyone simply because the guards have power over them.
When I interacted with firefighters through the years and listened to their boss stories, the boss performance problems they described were pretty simple. Bosses did things like fail to listen, said things that hurt feelings, were rude to their troops, micromanaged the trivial, did not know when to use their brains instead of their hearts, ignored/confused the critical, and on and on. The troops described good bosses as those who did the opposite. The negative boss behavior they talked about was not complex, but it involved a lot of the basic behavioral stuff your Mom taught you.
We started a discussion last month on using the effectiveness of the body parts of a boss to evaluate how well a boss performs. It would be useful to list some of the rules of engagement that describe the effectiveness of each body part. Perhaps going over these performance items will give you some hints on some little ways to improve your overall performance. When you review the inventory and the engagement directions, do not be distracted by how simple they are. Many times effective and ineffective boss performance is the result of a fairly small (but critical) way the boss’s body part operates-many times, winning and losing involves a one-percent difference.
Brain. The brain acts as “air traffic control” for the body by managing and connecting the inputs and outputs of all the other body parts. Maintain brain balance. Don’t let one body part dominate the total capacity of the brain. Keep the brain running; avoid power outages. Develop mental muscles that make you a resilient, persistent survivor. Don’t put substances (alcohol, drugs, and so on) in your body that mess up your brain. Always process what you are about to say through the brain before you say it.
Eyes. Widen your viewpoint past “static” for the whole story. Look deep, and be aware of what you don’t see. Beware of anything or anybody that causes you to stop looking. Don’t close your eyes when you open your mouth. Sometimes get new eyes to help you. Look others in the eyes when you talk to them. Understand how powerful your eyes can be. Rolling your eyes is among the most disrespectful and disgusted messages you can send.
Ears. Critical listening is a major boss capability/limitation. Sometimes put on and use your “big ears.” Assume a standard listening position, control your own hearing distractions, hear before you speak, continually improve your listening position, “pre listen” to how what you want to say will sound to others before you speak, continually sort out and block “static,” listen patiently-hear the whole message, and listen past what is said for what is not said. Realize that listening is a lot more difficult and less fun than talking. Connect your ears ahead of your mouth. The best way to get others to listen to you is to listen to them. Authentic listening is what “approachable” really means.
Mouth. Think twice; speak once. Use simple language. Pick your words. Remember that words can hurt. Sound calm and deliberate. Own what you say. Effective interpersonal communication requires practiced discipline that balances the effective operation of other body parts when the mouth is engaged. Talk can produce beautiful results and great harm and pain. Mouth demons thrive on the tongue/die in the brain. Continually regulate your voice tone, timing, and level to match the situation. Realize that some things are better left unsaid. Control your vocal “blurt valve.” Continually monitor the difference between having a conversation and giving a lecture. Talk less rather than more.
Nose. Understand that people, places, and things produce smells that literally and figuratively produce signals. Develop a sense of okay/not okay smell; continually run a “smell” test. Develop and expand a refined smell file. Pay attention to changes in smell. Quickly react to danger/survival smells. Run a continual personal “smell test” and organizational “headline test.” Recognize and respond to funny smells. Be careful of DSR = doesn’t smell right! Recruit others’ noses to widen “smelling.”
Face. Be aware that your face is pretty much always visible and continually sends a message. Control your expression. Keep an appropriate expression for the occasion. A smile is the best personal protective equipment outside the hazard zone. If you are happy, tell your face. Realize the huge impact of nonverbal communication. Watch others as they interact; study their facial expressions. Smile a lot (it’s healthy).
Body. Your body is your biggest part and can send the biggest message. Use open, approachable body language. Pay attention. Lips can lie; body language doesn’t. Dress your body appropriately for the situation. Don’t use your body to invade another’s personal space. Take custody of the space your body occupies. Be aware of cultural differences in body language “‘messages.”
Heart. Refine how you use your emotions for understanding and reading other humans. You must be emotionally literate so you can become bilingual: Speak emotional lingo in emotional situations. Speak rational lingo in rational situations. Balance your emotions. Don’t make decisions on just what your heart says; check it out with other body parts (brain first). Maintain an effective cardiac consistency-not too hard, not too soft. Know and manage your emotional buttons; someone may push them. BE NICE. Avoid being “un-nice.”
Hand. Always engage your brain before your hand. Think before you touch/act. If you have an inclination to wave your arms, put your hands in your pockets. Consciously use your hand to create correct action. Don’t try to get your hands on everything (micromanagement). Don’t touch other humans inappropriately. Don’t touch anything that is or looks “dirty”-money, favors, gratuities, perks, and so on. Know when to hang on and when to let go. As a leader, don’t touch it just because you can. Keep your hands to yourself.
Gut (your second brain). Don’t disregard your gut instincts. Realize the gut is direct and goes right to the issue. A “gut check” in initial situations can provide a useful warning/caution-when you get a no-go gut alarm, stay out of the hazard zone, and procrastinate until you can do further checks with other body parts. Smart leaders continue to refine the accuracy, memory, and recall of their gut capabilities. Don’t be gutless.
Backbone. Bosses must have backbone for tough decisions. Send a continual message about what you stand for and what you won’t stand for. Always balance smart/tough/nice. Regarding battle management, the best fight is the one you prevent. Whenever you fight, you get beat up even if you win. If current actions are not effective, safe, or relevant, a backbone is required to correct, redirect, or address them. Backbone is very visible and critical to yes-no effectiveness.
Feet. A big deal in leadership (like real estate) is location, location, location. Consider the message your physical location sends. Realize a lot happens (or doesn’t happen) to you based on where you are (or where you are not). Don’t let the foot hurt the body. Use location and presence to create a functional amount/level of leadership. Know when to move your feet and when to plant them. Use your feet to communicate. You must be seen to be heard. Walk your talk.
Funny bone. Use appropriate humor and avoid hurtful humor. Use humor to reduce stress/tension. The bosses (big people) should tease themselves. Humorous storytelling creates and supports positive organizational culture. If we are not laughing, we are not listening. It isn’t fun (or funny) unless it’s fun for everyone. Study people who use funny material effectively. Take yourself lightly. Let go. Lighten up.
There is much material in the body part rules to digest. It might be effective to go over it a couple of times so it can soak in better.
Retired Chief ALAN BRUNACINI is a fire service author and speaker. He and his sons own the fire service Web site bshifter.com.
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