You are the Boss. Now…about those friendships

I remember, a long time ago obviously, when I was in Boy Scouts at the old age of 11, I was made a patrol leader. Our troop had four patrols each with 7-10 scouts. So now I was the leader of friends I had known since 2nd grade (I know, forever when you are 11). My main duty was hat whatever jobs our patrol was given I would ensure the work got done. Within about 6 six months I was made Senior Patrol leader. Now I was leading all four patrols. I had to set agendas for meetings, assign quarter master duties, and generally sweat the small stuff so the two adult leaders didn’t have to. I vaguely remember assigning the easy duties mostly to those friends I had known for a long time and of course more distasteful duties to those other boys whom I did not know all too well.

Those decisions were easy. There were no real hard jobs, no one was getting paid, we all had fun no matter what and in the end – we were just a bunch of kids.

Fast forward 25 years and after 12 years on the fire department I was promoted to lieutenant and then was stationed at the same station I had just spent the last nine years at on the rescue. I was at least on a different shift now, but the medic there was the guy I first rode the rescue truck with for two years, played softball with another firefighter there, and had attended several union conventions with one other firefighter. So I knew several of the men stationed there already, considered most of them friends and now found myself in charge of them. For the most part I was back in the boy scouts as patrol leader. I was there mainly to ensure our shift took care of the jobs we were assigned. The big exception of course was being their leader at emergency scenes.

I believed then and still do now that as a lieutenant the crew you are in charge of expects you to be just another one of the guys but takes the blame when something goes wrong. Really nothing wrong with that theory as long as the expected job duties are completed properly and on time and the crew knows that you are in fact, in charge. I was always honest with whatever crew I worked with, treated them with respect and treated them fairly. That was simple stuff for me and it seemed to work well, even for those considered as friends. I always felt that you have to work pretty hard to screw up on the fire department, so things usually go pretty smooth.

As a captain I was moved to a 40 hour week in charge of EMS training and program development. At the time there was no one there to supervise but I did have to keep the chief out of trouble. When I was promoted to District Chief (same as battalion chief) the job became a whole lot different.

In charge of half of the city stations (six) and about 45 firefighters on my shift, My responsibilities included staffing the stations each shift and for the next shift, fielding concerns from six lieutenants and 2 captains, and work on any projects the operations chief passed down to us. Not as much direct supervision as a lieutenant except at emergency scenes. I met privately with the firefighters on that shift that I had become friends with over the years and made it clear we were still friends obviously, but if they are responsible for any problems that I would hold them accountable. I always asked each one to not take advantage of our friendship by expecting something more than others got. I think the key word is asked. I didn’t tell them or order them to; I asked them to respect our friendship. That understanding worked well. Most shift problems are mostly discipline issues like being late, minor accidents, failure to use time properly – certainly no friendship ending concerns. I used the same approach for the rest of my career in other positions and it always seemed to work well.

I would have to conclude that no matter your supervisory position, if you are up front with your expectations, consistent and fair throughout with discipline, and honest with the people you supervise then your time as a leader will be rewarding for yourself and the people that work for you. As someone said, it’s not rocket science; it’s just working with people and not against them. Easy stuff.


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.