Sunday, October 30, 2016

Leadership in problem solving

Leading in Problem Solving

  Perhaps the very definition of a “good leader” is that of someone who can solve problems. Historically the best leaders are those who triumphed over great issues that affected large populations. With this as the backdrop let’s consider how we can be better problem solvers.
  When small issues turn into a malignant problem the quicker the diagnosis the better. You can do this by looking for the tangible impacts on your organization. The presence of a negative scenario or disruptive behavior that has measurable results such as injuries, cost expansions or employee retention are real problems. Sometimes we focus on the mere absence of a desired asset or an un-attained goal as a problem. If they do not produce any “pain” then temper your amount of attention to them. Save the leadership trust you have built for problems that are correctable and worth fighting for your department.

                            Getting started.

  Separate the facts from any opinions and contrast the facts with the rules and customs that apply. Consider the perspective of those who may be defending the problem and why. Most people who are “the problem” are motivated by the thought of loss of status, pay, or influence. Dealing with them personally and directly can have immediate results as long as they choose to change for the better. Some plans of attack are not as simple and you may need to consider a process of investigation to get to the root cause of the issue. An internal committee or even an outside group may be used if internal opinions cannot be separated from facts. The fire service has done this for many years under collective bargaining and the use of an arbitrator.
  Solutions to be considered are important enough to be written and listed for future reference. The more complicated the problem, the more likely that the first solution is too simple to fix it. Considering all of the unintended consequences is key to developing a long lasting solution. To do this you will need feedback from some or all levels of the organization. The solution should also remain consistent with the department’s policies so you can keep your credibility. Documenting what the solution will look like, or result in will provide a goal to work for. The finish line will be drawn and everyone will know when that problem has been satisfied.

                          When performance IS the problem!

  Poor performance is a very difficult problem to address due to its systemic nature. Most performance failures are due to a poor leader that dropped the ball on any one of the following: They never communicated the expectations, provided the resources, taught the skills, or provided the time to develop the work force. The other contributing factor of sub-par performance is on the employees. If the staff is not held accountable for their professional behavior then there is not much hope for improvement. If there is little to no personal interest in the work effort then the organization will suffer the reputation as such. No amount of monetary or equipment resources can make up for people who do not care for what they are doing. The best case scenario is to change the attitudes and behaviors to be more in line with the department’s goals and mission. Doing so takes a commitment from both the leadership and the work force. For a successful mission the leadership needs to give what is necessary to improve the climate, and the employees must adapt to the mission or find another line of work. Great fire departments are so only because of the blue shirts making it so. The framework of leadership is needed but it is the work that is the most important!
  Improving individual performance must be documented, goal orientated and short in time range. We should as leaders be teaching the skills, coaching for performance and then counsel against any poor results. Your duties as a problem solver are very similar to operating on the scene of an emergency.
·        Distribute the work by setting priorities (assign the companies)
·        Monitor performance by promoting quality and safety (training and reviewing past experiences)
·        Provide feedback to enhance performance and getting personally involved is sometimes warranted to show the way. (putting on the gear and getting dirty)
These steps all use a model of communication that develop a personal relationship of interdependence and respect.

                            Start with you.

  Your responsibilities begin with yourself. You must maintain your personal integrity, positive attitude, and above all control how stress affects your behavior. Stress can be framed into 1 of 3 categories of personal control. 1 = no control, 2 = some control, and 3 = total control. We should try to apply our energy to the things we have total control first. Those things which we can somewhat control should have a long term plan of influence. Those things which we cannot control should be recognized as things we have to adapt to and deal with. Nobody said this was going to be easy!
  As a titled leader you will be expected to change things while being watched closely by both subordinates and supervisors. You are literally in the middle and are expected to absorb the pressure by walking the talk. If you are wondering if your attitude is not what it should be, ask yourself “Did I earn this position today?”

                          Understanding the bad attitude.

  Body language is the most understandable of all forms of communications. Without a word we decide many things about another person’s intentions. Behavior is the result of our thinking. Negative thinking is how we start down the bath of a bad attitude. The pillars of a negative attitude are selfishness, low self-worth, a weak moral baseline, the inability to adapt, fearing the loss of control or status, and only considering our own perception. An attitude adjustment takes a lot of energy. Most times a troubled person needs more than a professional influence to change the way they are thinking, feeling and what they focused on. These things require even larger efforts like developing better habits, associating with positive people, and above all having a desire to change. We as supervisors can do some of these things by holding our ground on what is expected from everyone under our command. Special treatment for 1 will lead to a failure of leadership. Re-establish the focus, teach, coach and monitor for progress. Follow through with reward and recognition if warranted. The objective should be clearly communicated to the person with the problem. If someone’s behavior is resulting in negative consequences for the group then a real solution is needed. A documented and structured discipline procedure is crucial. These procedures should list the expectations for the work force which should include a positive attitude and team work.

                             Keep the problems at bay.

  To ward off the spread of a bad attitude we should lead by example. By participating in the intentional disrespecting of anyone, you have condoned the bad attitudes. Sure, we all use some shades of dark humor and sarcasm to deal with this job, but that comes with the trust that our intentions are not to personally damage anyone. Especially our brethren! If you are a company or chief officer and have aired doubts or even insults about someone that was not in the room at the time, you have some work to do. Most of the people listening to you realize that it is only a matter of time before you pile on them, and no longer trust you. Without personal trust you cannot be a leader, just an in-effective manager with title only.
  Promote the attitude that succeeds. Offer solutions to complaints and call out the negativity as it happens. Most people will re-consider how they are thinking about an issue if their initial negative statements are challenged. Focus on making a positive impact on others and the organization. It’s quite simple; treat others as you would want to be treated and expect excellence

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Leading Under Fire part 1

This article appeared in the inaugural issue of the Firemanship Journal via the Harrisburg PA fire department, March of 2016. I suggest you go find it and print the entire journal and share it with your department.

Leading Under Fire part 1

How is it that we recognize the need for leadership? We are considering our profession and reflecting on both the good and the bad. The current scenario versus the preferred outcome or direction. When considering these things the obvious conclusion is that we need someone to lead us. Are you ready to take up this challenge? What will you need to have to lead your organization or even the fire service as a whole?
The answers vary according to your organizations mission, however if your organization does not have it’s goal written and posted, then how can you expect anyone to work towards an ideal with any unity? Words matter. Our language defines everything and that is no different in our fire departments. We all need our collective goal clearly defined so when anyone is faced with a challenge of “what do we do now?” we can look to the goal and have clarity. Mission statements won’t change your department, but the attitude and work geared towards it will. A mission statement is a foundation stone to building a house with purpose.
The people who lead have the personal traits that attract others to follow them. Personal bearing, energy, and a good attitude with honesty are all mandatory. A leader is someone who can guide a group through changes in their environment. A capable manager maintains processes or things during a change. The best leaders can do both. These high achievers do this not only because they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities but because they have a belief in those they lead. Leaders do their job because they believe in the collective good of the organization.

Opportunity to lead
Change in the fire service can come from many different directions. The most common one is from financial and technological pressures. From training budgets to modern ppe and equipment, great strides can be made to improve a department’s capabilities and their moral if properly funded. Of course the inverse is true where the opposite has happened. However the staff’s moral can still maintain if the leadership is still dedicated to the mission. This is why some of the poorest and busiest fire houses in America are the best to work for. The mission is understood, and the shared sacrifice and hard work is the reward.
The change agents can vary from population shifts or a change in expectations. Either of these can completely change what it is we are charged to do. If the public elects a leader that campaigns on changing the way things are done, you can bet on that happening. If the mission is redefined, your choices are to lead an effort to match the organization, or galvanize your troops to stand your ground. An example of this happened in northern Ohio in 2015. A dual role fire/EMS department was nearly reduced to half of its membership by the politics that proclaimed the city could find cheaper EMS providers via the private sector. The townspeople and business leaders were educated on the fact that these paramedics were also their fire protection, and the political winds changed quickly in the fire department’s favor. In this case the leaders of the union and the administration of the fire department worked together to reach out to the community to change the mission of the civic leaders. Consider the trust needed between labor and management on this example.
Other wild cards can cause a dramatic shift in our purpose. Outbreaks of disease or disasters that damage infrastructure can reduce one part of our job and assign us new or even bigger responsibilities. New found resources can cause boom towns to pop up where there was once no need for organized services. Natural gas exploration has caused this scenario across Oh, Pa, and West Virginia.

The currency of leadership is trust
When faced with good or negative changes a prolific leader makes all the difference. The process through a changing circumstance is to share the understanding so everyone knows where the organization is going and where they fit in. This kind of process takes trust. Trust is the currency of leadership. Trust cannot be established without some kind of relationship, and relationships are built on shared experiences or culture with a personal interest. This is why any great leader is lauded as not just a great leader but a friend, mentor or confidant. Followers will not be self-motivated to give their all to someone who they do not have a personal relationship.
It is the degree of risk that can define a leader. Most aspiring people want a difficult scenario to not only test themselves, but to also have an opportunity to earn their subordinates trust. The current fire service seems to be running towards risk aversion. Risk is a matter of perspective and the organization’s ability. To try to eliminate risk through policy is foolish and a symptom of a lack of leadership. Consider this example: A seasoned senior man (untitled leader) working inside of a burning building directing the attack line, and on the outside is the newly promoted incident commander from a different side of town. Whom do you think the firefighters are watching and listening to first? This is where risk aversion loses to risk analysis.
Experienced risk takers can be trusted but gamblers cannot. Regulating away risk is only a gamble in this profession and the odds are against us.

Leading is an action
Team leading is interdependent on the followers wanting to work for you. If you have to light fires under your people to get them to move, you are just a manager. If you light fires within your people to be self-motivated to accomplish more than is expected, you are a leader. Your job is to make people capable of filling your shoes in the future. This is why leadership failures impact is so long lasting. If there is no example of someone taking on the responsibility of directing the fire department an entire generation can slip into a lazy sea of apathy. Failures include complacency, giving into peer pressure, fear, and not defending your people. Perhaps the most common attribute of a leader who fails their people is one who has an infallible ego. Humility and humor go along way with personal relationships. Without personal relationships you cannot have trust, and without trust you are a one dimensional manager. As a leader you should be very concerned about your character and then let your reputation follow. Leaders know who they are and stay on course even if it means some degree of personal loss. The goal is to benefit the organization, not you.

Take on the role of a leader

Your role as a leader is to pull more than push, but you shouldn’t disregard the obligation to push those who need it. If you neglect those who resist or work against you, then those that are with you will slow down to the lowest expectation. Knowing your people and knowing their people (their motivators) gives you the insight to push them. Remember, you only appreciate being pushed by someone you respect. So value what is important to them, and they will most likely return the favor.  I will share some insight on problem solving in this article’s part 2. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2" hose, The middle child of the fire service

                                    2" hose, the middle child of the fire service

 Here is some perspective on the parallels of the 2" fire hose and being the middle child. The latter as you might guess is this author, so I claim the authority to speak to those truths. The former is in most cases misunderstood, and in my opinion is an underutilized attack choice for specific scenarios.

 Where does the middle child of fire attack belong? That is a subjective question answered by an equally subjective statement. The 2" line belongs in the hands of a crew fighting an advanced fire condition with a doubtful outcome, and/or a situation that has an inherent delay of reaching the fire due to the multiple turns or obstacles from the pump to the seat of the fire. Understand that a doubtful fire for you and your organization, may not be one for mine, or visa-versa. If you are not interested in thinking about the rate of water application vs nozzle reaction and the applicable maneuverability of the hose, then the 2" hose is not for you. I cannot speak to the history of the 2" hose but, I can explain what modern 2" can do for a short staffed crew that is dealing with a fire different than the bread and butter operation.  

 A fire in a residential high rise built pre 1995, with no PRV’s is one of these special types of incidents. The stand pipe design was built around the 2½ hose and a low pressure nozzle. Specifically to get 250 GPM to a low pressure high volume tip fastened to 150 feet of hose. The fire formula for these incidents are predicated on an advanced fire beyond it's room of origin. The fire service if very comfortable with the 1.75 because we make it work with repetition at ground level. The comfort with the 1¾ hand line has some merit but the stand pipe scenario does not allow for taking the easy way out. The same 1200sq ft. house fire configured as a ranch home is much worse 70 feet in the air with limited access. If you think not, then wait 10 minutes on the street the next time you arrive at a bread and butter house fire, and then see what gpm attack package you would rather use. 250 GPM is a must!

 In my own reality based back yard testing the modern 2" hose averages 15 - 20 pounds of friction loss per 50 ft. in the 250 gpm range with a 1-1/16th tip. The effective fire flow range of this attack hose is as much based on the hydraulics as it is the training and ability of the fire attack crew. The reaction force of a 1-1/8 smooth bore at 50 psi, or even 65 psi, is the same regardless of what hose is behind it. You need to practice handling these upper limit flows! Nozzle mechanics is a basic job requirement that is sorely glazed over by most. Respect the 2" line when flowing this amount of water. Do not treat it like a 1.75 as that nozzle reaction could surprise you.

  The next step is understanding the increased mobility of 2" vs 2 ½ . This is the "why" you should consider 2 inch hose!! The 2-½ is much heavier per length, and unless you have the bale 1/2 open, the 2.5 is much harder to bend around a turn. The shear amount of water pushing against the inner wall of the deuce and a half resists any effort to bend the hose. I cannot offer a scientific measurement of the force needed to bend the 2" but I can tell you that the effort is much, much less.

Matier, Shupe, Herbst 
The 2" does have its limitations. It does not come from the same low friction loss pedigree as the 2½. The 2" has an effective length where it must operate to justify its use. Friction loss is predicated on the rate of flow and overall distance of the hose. After using several different manufacturers, my observation is that 400 feet would be the upper limit if you still need to get the upper limit flows.  Some companies in FDNY were using it as a lead 100ft length on a residential stand pipe as a trial run. I would suggest that if you have the staffing to support a 2.5 then there is no need to switch to the 2". For the rest of the fire service where people are at a premium, you can find a good fit with this intermediate line. 

  So where could a 3 person engine use a 250 gpm line that has superior mobility and not exceed the length limitations? A pre 95 standpipe system. An attached garage fire. A large open floor plan modern house fire. There are specific scenarios that would be conquered more quickly by the understaffed company with using this hose line. With that said, a pre planned attack for these scenarios should be identified so as to not make the mistake of NOT pulling the 2.5 when warranted. Using the A.D.U.L.T. acronym is the best place to start. 

  From the street - to the pump - to the discharge point - to the nozzle – to the seat of the fire. A simple plan but the choices of equipment effect your efficiency. If you have the benefit of multiple companies responding to one of these incidents, then I suggest you stick with the high volume/low pressure 2 ½ hose. If your organization could benefit from using this alternative, clearly map out where this should be used with the explanation of why. 


                                             The 2" is not a replacement for the 2 ½!

 A target flow for the middle child of fire attack in my opinion is 220 to 250 gpm. I recognize this is not the higher level of fire attack via a 2½ at 265 gpm. However; I also recognize that modern 2" can do 265 quite easily. Look at your attack packages and evaluate the operational range. Get that hose wet with a pito tube, and find out what your crew can do with an under pumped nozzle as well as with the over pumped one. 50 psi at the smooth bore tip is the target but the variables are too many to list for an exact pressure. Shoot for 50 and run the nozzle wide open with a good grip.

 The middle child takes the wisdom of the older 2½, and blends it with the speed of the younger, more deploy-able 1¾. The results are a hard hitting attack package that gives smaller crews a better chance at taking the building back from the fire. If you are not fortunate enough to work for a big organization that can put a couple dozen hands on a working fire, then consider a look at putting all of the fire service siblings in play.

Photos are by the author.