Vision – Take the blinders off

~visionWhen you are in a leadership position, having a vision for your organization is more important than the words that you say.

As leaders, sometimes we don’t realize how closely we are being watched by our administrative staff, our line officers and firefighters, and by our superiors. Many organizations publish information on their mission, vision, and values – perhaps on the web, perhaps in other published materials. These tenets drive the organizations culture and put forth expectations.

The leader’s job is to set the organization’s vision. In other words, it is the leader’s job to put the coordinates in the organizations GPS so that everyone will know where they are going and that there is a map to get them there. So, how important is an organizational vision?

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President, he was immediately faced with the crisis of southern states wanting to leave the union. From the beginning, Lincoln’s vision was simple; Preserve the United States as one Country. From his inauguration speech to the last speech he made, and every person he talked to in-between, he explained why his vision was important, and how he believed we as a nation could achieve the goal of preserving what had been laid out almost a hundred years earlier.

When George McClellan won the day at Antietam, He was quoted as saying he had driven Bobby Lee back to Virginia and out of the Union. President Lincoln was furious that McClellan just didn’t get it. We were all one union, one country, and to preserve it the southern armies had to be defeated, not just merely driven back to Virginia. In the End, Lincoln found Grant and the southern armies were defeated and the United States remained as one.

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How important was Lincoln’s vision? Most historians would say that President Lincoln’s vision of preserving the Union is why we still have a United States today.

One of the first things I developed when I became the Chief in Haines City Florida was to develop a vision statement to give the department a goal to work towards.

It was a pretty simple one: “Haines City Fire Department will be widely recognized as one that demonstrates best practices in the delivery of fire and emergency medical services to our community”.

It doesn’t seem like much, but for a department of 31 personnel with a previous five year 60% turnover rate, it really was a bold statement. So the question would be how did we make the department stand out with so many other departments in the county?

First we developed a strategic plan for the department. We did this at no cost (except overtime for 15 people for eight hours) by getting the assistance of a professor from Polk State College. We accomplished this at a time when other departments pay upwards of $10,000 for the same service. We completed the plan in a four month period. It was the first one the department ever had, and the first one any department in the city had. I think you could count on one hand the number of departments in that county that have one today.

A second project involved one of our firefighters who is an avid (50 – 70 miles a day on days off) bicyclist. He asked about the possibility of starting an EMS bike team, as no one else in the county had one. After a few phone calls, we acquired the use of two EMS bikes from another department in another county and tried them out at one of the city’s popular lake side events. They worked like a charm. From there the firefighter did his research, recommended two bikes, and found all of the other accessories needed. We found some money in the budget, made the purchases and in no time at all had the first EMS Bile Team in the county. It was a BLS team, but they carried AED’s and other BLS supplies. Today there are at least two other teams in the county and they came to our department to get information and all take part in training together. We were being recognized for our “Best Practices”.

These two examples were just the start. As the firefighters took more pride in their job and their work, the turnover rate dropped until it was 0% in my last year there. I believe it was all about the vision I had for the department and getting the personnel involved enough until they started coming up with ideas to make the department better. After that it’s a cycle that feeds on itself.

Vision – Does your department have one? Do you as a leader or one of the line personnel know what the goals for the department are? Someone once said “if you don’t know where you are going, you just might get there”.

“Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.” Jon Madonna Vision is like a snapshot of the future for which your personnel are willing to work.

Take the blinders off.

Remember to Stay Safe. Everyone Goes Home.

William Jolley has 37 years of experience in the fire service with 20 of those years in a management position. William was the Fire Chief of Haines City, Florida, a city of Approximately 20,000. Prior to that William was the Assistant Chief of Saint Petersburg, Florida, where he worked for 35 years.

Posted in Chief William Jolley, Fire Service, Firefighting, Leadership.