Repeat the mission and vision of the organization often
By Ty Wheeler
Formal leaders serve in a unique position throughout organizations. These members serve as administrative staff who conduct daily operations, determine our mission, and allow the crews to accomplish those objectives. Organizations cannot just rely on formal leadership to direct the organization. It takes formal and informal leaders to be successful. To lead both by rank and by leadership status, it takes the ability to set priorities and allow the line firefighters to succeed in accomplishing those tasks.
A leader needs to, first and foremost, set the mission and vision of the organization. These statements should drive the expectations and actions of everyone within the organization and should become the moral compass. In times of uncertainty, these core values can be referenced to make decisions. The mission statement tells the citizens what our goal and objectives are and how we are going to serve them. The vision statement should describe how the organization is going to accomplish those missions and be a beacon of light for the future.
The leaders need to be able to express organizational values to allow the beliefs and culture to become espoused into every member of the organization. When these values and beliefs become deep seated within the organization, the culture of that group is developed, and a set of unspoken behaviors and actions ensue.
When you are setting the expectations and values, message delivery is a key component for the success of the information and expectations. Leaders who fail at message delivery may experience the exact opposite outcome of their intentions. This can turn the group against them and create more confusion and uncertainty of expectations. This can be frustrating to the members and reduce trust, motivation, and morale.
Message delivery is one leadership area that does not get as much attention as it deserves. The most powerful tool a leader possesses is the spoken word and the ability to influence and motivate. When the inability to communicate and express the message starts to compound the growing issues within the organization, members will begin to lose faith and trust in their leadership.
Message interpretation is a dynamic process, which is illustrated with the communication model of the sender, receiver, coding and decoding, the medium, and feedback. Some of the miscommunication by the leader happens during the coding of the message, when language or word selection is not optimal or can be misconstrued. This then leads to the medium of transmission of the message. E-mail, memos, other supervisors, and spoken words are all avenues to communicate, and each medium of transmission can cause an error of the message.
The second part of the miscommunication can stem from the decoding by the receiver of the message. When the receivers of the message interpret the information, they use their previous experiences, knowledge, and perspective to make a conclusion of the message. When leadership fails to understand members’ perspective and tailor the message toward such perspective, the message can seem unimportant or off base. Again, these factors can then compound into larger issues within the organization.
As the formal leader, administration needs to be in front of the membership to express the mission and values of the organization, frequently and loudly. When members are repeatedly bombarded with a mission of success followed by the actions of the leadership, members will begin to display these values as long as they believe in their actions. To lead, leaders need to express the mission and values followed by the display of their actions and a deep underlying purpose of those actions. We cannot expect to tell people how to behave or act and then expect them to find the motivation and purpose to those actions. It is the leader’s responsibility to build a strong reason and to espouse those values.
· Repeat the mission and vision of the organization often.
· Use the core values to direct the actions of the members.
· Set priorities and expectations.
· Allow members to do their job and be good at their job. Support them through action.
· Understand the organization climate and member perspective.
· Have an unwavering trust and commitment of the members.
· To espouse beliefs, values, and culture, provide the members with a purpose and why.
· Ensure the espoused values and expectations match the actions of the leader.
I relate this to the fire service in the reasoning behind making new recruits do chores and take the trash out. This is not just hazing or earning your place; it is much more than that. It instills discipline and attention to detail. In addition, if we cannot trust you to do the basic duties of cleaning and taking out the trash, how can we trust you to do your duties at a fire? New recruits need to understand the reason behind these mundane tasks, because if we fail to explain this to them, it appears to be meaningless hazing. Again, people need to know why they are performing a task and then instill the expectations and values. This then becomes an organizational norm and something that is ingrained in the organization.
Members’ perspective and the climate of the organization have drastic influences on the receptiveness of the message. When members are constantly begin criticized for their actions or inaction, the delivery becomes much more critical. During these times, leaders must ensure the priorities are never questioned by the membership. When messages and values are being expressed by administration and more importance is placed on low-level priorities, it sends a mixed message to the members. In the fire service, our message should be an unwavering commitment to the citizens and training. Doing the job and being prepared should never take a back seat to other duties. Leaders need to ensure their message always expresses the importance of the job relating to incident response. “When can we get back to being good at our job and focus on being firefighters?” should never be heard from members.
Once we confirm we have expressed the expectations and priorities, we cannot belittle those words by the actions. The leader’s actions need to support the message. Many times, leaders speak of training and becoming great at the job but leave little time for crews to do so because of other tasks, which seem to take priority. We often see the leaders who preach the mission and verbally sets the expectations, but the actions tell the exact opposite. This hypocrisy has negative implications.
Leadership is not easy and takes time and practice, but understanding how the message is being delivered and those effects on the members is important to get the greatest action out of the members. If people do not believe in the mission of the organization, they will not support it with their actions. If they are told how to have pride and motivation, this will have the opposite results. Leaders need to inspire and influence action. People do not like to be told how to act, but if we provide them with a positive environment, they will find pride and motivation through their own purpose and why.
Ty Wheeler is a lieutenant with the Johnston-Grimes (IA) Metropolitan Fire Department and has been with the fire service for more than 10 years. He has an associate degree in paramedicine and a bachelor’s degree of science in fire science administration and is pursuing a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Waldorf University. He has received his managing officer certificate from the National Fire Academy and several fire service and EMS certifications at the state and national levels. He is a member of the Iowa Society of Fire Service Instructors and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Wheeler is a certified strength and conditioning coach through the NCSA, the president of The D.A.M. F.O.O.L.S., and co-owner of Rogue Training Consulting.