Insights into leadership development sometimes come from strange places.
A fire chief at a local department recently asked me how he could get his officers to show more commitment. “They act like substitute teachers.”
I asked him to describe the behaviors that he was looking for. When he did, I said, “So you want them to act more like parents.”
The chief emphasized that he didn’t mean that all of his people were acting like children, although the look in his eye implied that maybe some were. I wasn’t suggesting anything about the maturity of his people, but rather that parents don’t stop being parents when their children grow up. In fact, this is exactly what I meant by helping agency leaders acting like parents rather than substitute teachers.
|SUBSTITUTE MINDSET||PARENT MINDSET|
|A substitute teacher doesn’t last.||A parent is in it for the long haul.|
|Gets to know names, but not people.||Knows who you are, who your family is, and what makes you tick.|
|Works towards a paycheck.||Work towards a vision.|
|Just wants to make it through to the end of shift.||Wants to help you grow as a professional and as a person.|
|We do what subs say, “Because they said so.”||We do what parents say because it’s the right thing to do.|
|Were not sure exactly what they want from us.||We know their standards and expectations.|
|Makes it up as they go.||Follows good policies and helps change bad ones.|
|Lets it go “Just this once.”||Enforces rules fairly.|
|Asks, “What can we do to not get in trouble?”||Asks “What can we do to make things better?”|
|Work is something “We have to put up with.”||Work is how we get things done.|
|The inmates run the asylum.||We can have fun, but there’s no doubt who’s in charge.|
|Avoids the difficult conversations.||Is someone we can talk to, and confide in.|
Thinking about leadership development in this way doesn’t just give your officers better choices, it helps make them better decision-makers. I told the chief he didn’t have to use this analogy. I’m sure that smarter people than I could find a better one. The point is, I don’t believe the best way to help people become better leaders is to give them a long list of behaviors to use. I believe that it’s better to give people an idea to emulate. This is far easier to remember and will help guide them in ways we didn’t think of under circumstances we couldn’t anticipate both on scene and in the station.