6 steps to being a collaborative fire chief

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John Buckman III

We live in an age where information is fast. If a child goes missing in a small town, that information is instantaneously spread around the world in a matter of seconds.

But what does this information speed mean from a leadership perspective?

One consequence information technology is the loss of person-to-person communication. The art of people-to-people relationships can take a back seat to electronic communication.

Collaboration is a critical skill for effective and successful leadership. And collaboration is built in person. Therefore, leaders lead best when engaging in person-to-person relationships.

If it were only about technology, the one with the best toys would always win. Technology can tip change, and speed it up. It can facilitate collaboration, but it cannot build the attitude necessary for collaboration to get off the ground.

Building collaboration
Together we can achieve more than individually. This takes a particular mindset. The firefighters who are on our departments want to be asked to assist. For the most part they won't volunteer to help unless asked.

To be effective at collaboration one must be willing to look across boundaries of age, gender, seniority, race and rank. The person and the ability of that person should be the driving force when choosing persons to collaborate with.

Collaboration processes are seldom fast. It will take some time to develop a collaborate effort that brings progress to an organization.

Understanding and navigating the politics of collaboration is a critical component to success. With sensitivity to the group's politics, create an environment where they can speak freely; is necessary to a successful outcome.

As the leader in a collaborative environment you will not always get your way. In fact, the official leader in a collaborative environment is usually the most silent during the discussions.

From time to time the official leader may nudge the group in a certain direction. It is sort of like telling the group the overall goal but not dictating the road map to meet that goal.

Six steps
Here are six ways to be a more collaborative fire chief.

1. Have a vision of a better way that will create energy within the organization. If the leader creates the appropriate visions, firefighters can imagine a better day for themselves and the organization.

2. Make the goal doable. Deliver value fast by accomplishing something significant. This will help to prove to the naysayers that something good will come from this collaborative process.

3. Give credit where credit is due. This will add prestige to those who are willing to sacrifice their time, ideas and energies.

4. Get the right people involved. As Jim Collins says in the book "Good to Great" — having the right people on the bus helps to insure success.

5. Implement what the group wants within reason and budget.

6. Mind your political support. Make sure you understand the role politics play in the successful implementation of a new idea, concept or program.

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