On the fireleadership.gov website, one of the recommended reads for 2016 was this book. Without anything fresh to read I searched for the availability of the suggested titles in Audio. I have started the once-or-twice-a-week hiking regimen for staying in shape, so Turn This Ship Around has been following me up the hills and steep grades I trudge. Today, on the last couple hours remaining, I drove towards an oncoming “blizzard”, broke out the snowshoes and put in the earbuds. The leadership website says this in reference to their aim for providing questions and promoting unified learning:
“The intent of the challenge is to promote the reading and discussion of the book throughout the spring and summer. Discussions are encouraged on the WFLDP Facebook page, the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center Fireline Leadership Reading Room, and ready rooms, engine bays, and fire caches across the land.”
Copy. As I put in some fresh tracks and considered the deer or elk prints in the snow, I also considered Marquet’s unique approach towards leadership. This Leadership-Leadership concept he was implementing on the Santa Fe Nuclear submarine wasn’t introduced in an about face manner even though its methodology was in opposition to its’ predecessor, the Leader-Follower style. The idea of Leader-Follower has been engrained in western literature and culture, with Marquette citing Patrick Obriens “Master In Commander”, the construction of the Egyptian Pyramids, and the industrial revolution. The success of this method of leadership is due to its ability to accomplish primarily physical tasks, such as digging line, falling trees, and gridding for smokes. What this leadership style (Leader-Follower) fails to account for is our intellect, and the circumstances of wildland firefighting, which demand intellectual and deliberate actions. By deriding the intellectual portion of our job as wildland firefighters, we discredit people’s natural curiosities and liberties for creative initiative and open communication.
For example: in the Leader-Follower method on a Squad, it is the sqaudee who does everything intellectually, leaving only the laborious tasks for the followers. We have implemented lots of “training opportunities” to prevent the chaos, should the leader fall and the follower becomes leader. We are issued taskbooks. This is also to promote the idea of leading in a way which plans for the future and not the immediate success of a mission. However, these formal measures of “training opportunities” or “training assignments” in essence only re-affirm oneself as a Follower, because the ball still remains in the court of the Leader, not the Follower. The positive outcome of changing this methodology, towards an aspect of Leader-Leader, would empower more of us to take initiative, to learn, and to develop. Every single day.
Towards the end of Turn This Ship Around Marquette raises a very important point which is extremely relevant to our organization of Wildland Fire. The more that power and control is pushed down the chain of command, he says, the more important job competence becomes crucial. At the beginning of last season I was brought into the “office” and had a conversation with my supervisors’ supervisor concerning my goals, my career aspirations and my place on the district. The aim of this discussion, I believe, was to instill within me that I was being given an opportunity to develop, I was being given more latitude and rope. The caveat I was told, was that it was sufficient and more than adequate to hang myself with. Pretty foreboding, I guess, but I didn’t view it that way at the time because I’d been learning. I had tried to ask as many questions as I could in the previous years about the intricacies of what I was being asked to do, and felt I’d developed a firm grasp on the competencies of my job. I gauged this by those I viewed as having mastered them. While I can’t say I eclipsed those individuals prominence in competence, I can confidently say I neared a commitment for mastery required to do so. The commitment must be unceasing.
Another way we like to discuss this point in wildland fire is the idea of trust. Trust is an unwritten contract between people, entailing an agreed upon understanding of a persons abilities, character, and identity. To have someones trust, they must know you and understand the aspects of your constitution needed for that trust. You can trust someone in one regard, and not another, because there are different realms of trust. Job competencies compose a primary aspect of trust in our job. We can’t ask the guy who doesn’t know how to navigate for directions. Only when we’ve watched someone learn and develop, or seen them in action, do we validate their competency and issue them trust for those actions. Task books are a formal method of validation. But we do this all the time. We issue task books in our heads to those around us we ask for assistance. Did that person excel in that role? “Somebody sign this guys ‘can fix a broken tailgate’ task book right now, dammit!” I think a lot of the time in our organization we get too bogged down by task books and Leader-Follower methodology to utilize the potential in people. I often see the “can back up a trailer to a T” in the trash, while I watch in horrified fascination as a Leader in the Leader-Follower style bend all hell out of fender. Those with the competencies are empowered when their competencies are are allowed freedom to operate. These competencies become aging discrepancies when they are tossed aside as being too intellectual for our pay grade.
I think what I found most valuable from Marquete’s Book is when and why power should be pushed down, what empowering does for an individual and what prevents this from happening. This is also a great starting block for taking an introspective look at one’s own competencies in order to see where they lack ability and how to improve.