Firehouse Magazine

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Instructor John Dixon

Passionate, Relevant, and Current Knowledge Sharing For Your Department

Identifying Morals, Values, and Principles – How To Become The Best Version of YOU!

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There are plenty leaders standing alone on the proverbial organizational island. It has been said time and time again “the higher up the food chain we ascend, the lonelier we may become.” Why is this so? Perhaps we may have lost sight of how vital our values and principles transcend any leadership style. Let’s identify a few of what may be many examples of the values and principles that are exemplified by outstanding leaders in the fire and emergency services.

The subjectivity of the human condition when discussing values is evident and absolutely normal. The ideology behind our value systems has been cultivated in the timeless debate of nature versus nurture. The environment that we have been raised within as young children most certainly cultivates our lives as we evolve and grow into adulthood. This is where and when our values were cultivated. The roots and foundation are grown and poured to help us build our own unique personal values. There is a cumulative effect of exposure albeit either positively or negatively as we further develop our own values into principles.

Once we can identify what true morals, principles, and values are, we can place the purpose of them into the context of personal, organizational, and community environments. Let’s start with the definition of morals.

Morals – A standard of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable, relating to principles or teaching a concept of right or wrong.

Morals can be equally thought of as character. It can be further defined as the “what” we do when no one is watching us. Our moral compasses and character is what we hold self-evident and display which speaks volumes about our morals. Why do we make the decisions we do? How do we know what is right and what is wrong? We can all agree that lying is wrong yet many of us do this with ease in many different situations. The most egregious lie of all may be to ourselves. By not following our intuitive moral compass we may find ourselves lost and on the wrong path of self-righteousness.

Once we can truly identify what our individual morals are, such as honesty, kindness, and empathy we can build a solid foundation upon leadership principles and styles. “Style refers to the manner and methods that a leader uses to interact with other people, especially those whom they lead and especially when making decisions” (Thiel, A. K., & Jennings, C. R., 2012, p. 196). The morals that we exemplify directly correlates as to the “why” behind our decisions.

So now that we understand the “why” let’s translate the “what and how” into our leadership style. These principles will affect how we practice personal and organizational leadership.

Principles – Rules or laws that one has identified and accepted which governs one’s personal behavior.

Once we can identify the foundational norms, values, and beliefs that represent what is desirable and positive for a person, group, and organization; we can communicate these principles into leadership actions. Such principles as: integrity, tact, bearing, knowledge, and judgement just to name a few of the many; are the “how” we will come to a decision crossroads intertwined with our morals. Hopefully, we can start to see a pattern, a continuum. It is at this crucial intersection that we use our moral compass to guide us and help us find the “true North” of leadership.

As leaders we can begin to outline personal and organizational principles which in turn will develop a system of values to follow. Many people are searching for the Holy Grail of leadership. There is no singular method or equation for quantifying personal or organizational success. There is no magic formula. This is where developing a values/vision statement will help to guide us on the right path. The path of continuous improvement!

Values – Important and lasting beliefs or ideals, shared by the members of a culture, about what is “good or bad” and “desirable or undesirable.”

Values have a major influence upon a person’s behavior and attitude. They serve as broad guidelines in all situations. Such values as: altruism, compassion, diversity, and generosity to simply name a few. This is one part of the aforementioned leadership continuum. This is a non-linear process. Our decisions are not meant to go from East to West or North to South. We as leaders must analyze the impact of our decisions as they pertain to our unique morals, values, and principles. These decisions will not only impact ourselves but will most assuredly impact the organization as a whole.

Often times we may hear that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Many people will opine that it’s either non-existent or extremely low. One way to inspect this challenge is to re-examine the core values within an organization. Do the organizational values align with the values of the people who reside within it? Are the shareholders in concert with the organizational mission statement? If the answer is anything other than yes, it’s time to break out our moral compasses to find our true North, go back to the map to find our original starting point, and retrace our steps.

In closing, I firmly believe that analyzing our morals, principles, and values will help frame and build us as leaders in order to construct our mission statement. Otherwise, how will we know how to make the best decisions? Hopefully, if you have been following me you will have seen my Personal Mission Statement:

“Together WE can lead, encourage, and motivate each other towards seeking continuous improvement while promoting emergency service excellence within ourselves and others one day at a time.”

This mission statement was not developed over night. The morals, principles, and values that were, and continue to be engrained within me are geared towards seeking continuous improvement in all aspects my personal and professional goals.

I offer you this challenge. Take some time to self-evaluate your own set of morals, principles, and values. Be absolutely honest with yourself. Try to understand who you truly are and the goals you wish to accomplish personally and professionally. Jot these goals down. After sometime, you will recognize that you have plotted the coordinates on the path to success. Guess what.... If you don’t already have a personal mission statement, you’ve just created the scaffolding or blueprints to build one.

I would be humbled and honored to read and or help anyone in this process. If you have a personal mission statement completed already, please send it to me. Post it on social media! Be proud. If you don’t have one, what are you waiting for? There is greatness within you. Simply identify the best version of you and then execute the plan.

 

Cover Photo Courtesy: Chris Baker

References
Thiel, A. K., & Jennings, C. R. (2012). Managing fire and emergency services. Washington, D.C.: International City/County Management Association.

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Empowerment

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To better define empowerment and truly understand what this action is, we must fully understand what it is not. Stopping unsafe acts is directly impacted by our abilities to empower others to act; therefore we must also become empowered ourselves.

Empowerment is a very strong word. It can be said that this action is often met with great resistance because it allows for the transfer of power. “To empower is to enable, or to equip or supply with an ability” (Ford, 2012, p. 81). This action of giving authority to others is sometimes misunderstood. The American fire service has become much better in recent years allowing its members to step up and assume more responsibilities.

The very opposite of empowerment is micromanagement. This will cause many people and organizations to become stagnant. In order for empowerment to be embraced, we as a service organization must think along the lines of investment. Investing in our people is the best way to empower them. A great way of accomplishing a positive culture change is to employ the ABC’s.

Attitudes

We must expect and demand as a professional service the utmost in our people’s attitudes. A positive mindset can only be fostered by empowering others with positive surroundings such as access to quality training, formal education, and progressiveness. We are all in direct control of our attitudes but we are also greatly influenced by the level of empowerment we receive from our superiors. The trickledown effect of a positive culture will be a huge return of investment.

Behaviors

Our behaviors are a direct result of our attitudes. It is impossible to have positive outcomes with our behaviors if our mindset is not cultivated. This is where a divide within the fire service can be seen. The behaviors of the older generations of firefighters differ in many ways than the newer generations. The introduction of Crew Resource Management into the fire service is seen as a direct challenge of authority.

While the younger generation has been indoctrinated to ask questions, the older generation understands this to be a lack of a willingness to comply thus the appearance of entitlement is born.

Culture

The ability for empowerment to help stop unsafe acts is dependent upon our knowledge, skills and abilities. The development of KSA’s is directly impacted by the culture within our organization. “The foundation of the future lies in the concept of empowerment” (Ford, 2012. P. 82). Some may say that the fire service culture is doomed. These are specifically the people that would say empowering others is a mistake. They lack the understanding of evolution.

As an Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, it is my humble duty to pontificate the sixteen Life Safety Initiatives. The number one initiative is in fact calling for a cultural change.

Life Safety Initiative #1

Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety; incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility.


“It is important to understand that culture is either by design or default. Deviant behavior and actions are a result of learning the norms, values and beliefs of the organization as a whole” (Dixon, 2015).


In closing, many focus simply on kinesthetic actions in order to stop unsafe acts. In hindsight, many of the tragic outcomes could have been prevented. It is far easier to prevent a drift into failure than it is to correct. The development of our ABC’s is paramount in setting the trend of empowerment.

It does no one any good to keep correcting ourselves on the fireground from negative outcomes when we cannot control our own attitudes, behaviors and ultimately develop a more positive culture while we are back in the station.

References

Ford, T. (2012). Fire and emergency services safety and survival. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Dixon, J. (2015). The Normalization of Deviance. Firehouse Magazine, Vol. 40, N.10. p.49.

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