A recent retiree of the Los Angeles Fire Department, Battalion Chief Evan Williams was kind enough to include me as a recipient of an e-mail he sent on his final day of duty.
It is my honor to share his inspiring words of wisdom...
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of my friends and co-workers, both on the LAFD and many other departments across the Nation, for all of the kind words and well-wishes in regards to my retirement after 33 years of service.
The LAFD, and the fire service in general, is the best thing that ever happened to me. I love the job and I love the guys. I looked forward to going to work every day and I looked forward to the fun and the challenges associated with the greatest job in the world. I'm really going to miss it and I'm looking forward to keeping up with what's going on by following the Battalion 14 blog and dropping by the Station every now and then for some kitchen table stories.
I recently received the following e-mail from Darrin in Chula Vista, CA;
Chief Williams, congratulations on your retirement. I have enjoyed reading and learning from the Battalion 14 blog. Do you have any advice/tips for success for a young Captain, especially from someone with as much leadership/command experience as yourself. Any help is appreciated. Again, congratulations on your retirement and thanks for the great work on the blog. Fraternally, Darrin
Darrin, I'm certainly not an expert in this area but I would like to repeat some of the advice that has been given to me through the years by a number of people that I highly respect. Nothing trick here...common sense advice that holds true not only for Officers but for everyone at every level.
1. Know your job. This single quality will outweigh all others when it comes to earning the respect of your people. Knowing your job enables you to walk the walk and truly lead by example. It allows you to make wise decisions and helps you fulfill your prime responsibility at the scene of an emergency - provide for the safety of your crew.
2. Treat people the way you would expect to be treated. How basic. You can read every leadership book in the world and it still boils down to this. You've studied, passed some tests and now you find yourself an Officer. This does not give you the right to suddenly start treating people differently. The fact is it demands that you treat people with respect and consideration. Isn't that how you would like to be treated?
3. Make safety your top priority. Get 'em there safely and get 'em home safely. This goes hand in hand and with knowing your job. You better take safety seriously because the lives of your crew are at stake. We have a tendancy to downplay it but our job really is dangerous and believe me you do not ever want to contribute to a situation that could compromise the safety of your people. You have to train with safety in mind and make every decision with safety in mind. If you find yourself worrying about the safety of your crew then your priorities are in order. This is the life of a Fire Officer.
4. Know your people. You can't know what your people need if you sit in your office all day. You need to find the balance point between forcing yourself on your crew and being a non-caring pencil pushing loser. I honestly believe that many Officers are ineffective simply because they don't take the time to learn what their people need. Get out from behind the desk and walk among'st em. You can get to know them and they can get to know you. It will make them better and it will make you better.
5. Perfect the art of listening. You can make good decisions on your own. You can make better decisions if you learn to listen to those around you. Why limit yourself. I once had a Staff Assistant that I highly respected. He had an amazing ability to stop me from making stupid decisions by using one phrase; "Are you sure you want to do that?" I listened, I learned and I found out that his wisdom was invaluable in making me a better Officer and a better decision maker.
6. Put your people in a position to succeed. This comes in knowing your role as an Officer. You're not there to lord over them or use them to try and make yourself look better. Your duty is to be both a team leader and a member of the team. You need to have the ability to size up a situation, emergency or non-emergency, and develop a plan or solution that insures your crew can succeed in their mission. Never forget that it's your crew that gets things done.
7. Give credit where credit is due. I learned as a young Officer that everything I gave to my crew came back ten-fold. Your people will literally bust their ass for you. They don't do it for atta boys or accolades but I guarantee that a few words of encouragement or thanks for a job well done will go a long way towards making them know that you appreciate their efforts.
8. Back 'em. It's that simple. You back your people when they're right and you back your people when they're wrong. If you're going to be an Officer who is respected you have to be willing to lay it on the line for your people. You have to believe that your people are important and you're not. You have to be willing to go to bat for each and every one of them on duty or off duty and you have to be willing to do it 24/7. You have to be willing to take blame at times when it's beneficial for your people and detremental to you. If you're willing to do this you will be an effective leader and an Officer who gets the most out of his people.
9. Be consistent. When you become an Officer you give away your right to "have a bad day". Nobody wants to work for somebody with multiple personalities. You can't be moody and you can't be unpredictable. Your crew needs to know how you will react in every situation and they have to know that you're steady and reliable when it comes to your decision making.
10. Trust your people. Trust is a two way thing. Too often Officers expect their crew to trust them in their duties when they fail to trust their crew. Here's a newsflash...we all make mistakes. Errors know no rank. You need to cultivate a basic belief that your crew wants to do what's right and be there to assist them. You're not there to constantly dwell on the negatives and if you think this makes you a good Officer you're dead wrong.
Darrin, good luck in your new role..... (Retired) B/C Evan Williams"
Chief Williams, thanks for sharing those words of wisdom, and for making so many of us at the LAFD the best that we can be.
It was a profound honor to serve under your Command.
Submitted by Brian Humphrey, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department