According to Dale Carnegie, “There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts." Carnegie's contacts are:
- What we do.
- How we look.
- What we say.
- How we say it.
Being fire chief or chief executive officer is complicated, challenging, frustrating, spontaneous, shocking, depressing and rewarding. And through them all, the chief or executive officer is expected to be the calm in the center of the storm; someone who can be depended on to respond in a respectful, pragmatic and measured manner.
Among the many traits highly successful fire chiefs and chief executive officers possess, two of them play a very important role. They are consistency in proper conduct and in showing high moral fiber. In terms of consistency, the fire chief can't afford to have a bad day. Exhibiting frustration or anger when approached will wall the chief away from the staff even when it is important for them to make contact.
The challenge for meeting these two important traits is ensuring the appropriate conduct, discussion topics and vocabulary fit the environment. A chief cannot present himself or herself in the same manner before city council as opposed to speaking to a group of firefighters in a fire station. The firefighters are not the least bit interested in hearing about justification for a zoning change necessary to build the next fire station. On the other hand they are very interested to know what type of apparatus will be stationed there and how many promotions will likely occur as a result of the new station. In front of city council, the chief must be aware of proper decorum during formal city council meetings and appropriate vernacular when presenting land-use change applications and presentations.
Each new environment demands a unique brand of conduct, dress, dialect, and etiquette. Some environments and roles fire chiefs and other leaders are expected to fulfill follow:
- Before the local political body in formal public meetings, neighborhood association meetings and one on one in their office. The agendas may include budget, land use, annual events such as fire prevention week proclamations, etc.
- At social events, dedications, receptions, banquets, retirement, and celebratory events.
- Memorials, dedications and funerals.
- Addressing citizens (seniors, adults and children) at community events, public education opportunities, legal proceedings (budget, bond hearings etc.).
Serving as incident commander during a major incident
- Testifying in federal, appeals, district, EEO and civil service, court, or legal proceedings including depositions.
- Promotional and award ceremonies
- Presentation of keynote addresses, remarks and welcome at conferences, and formal meetings.
- Fire station, department section (fire marshal, logistics, human resources, etc.) visits.
There may be other events and environments I may have missed; however, I believe this covers the vast majority. Some basic rules apply to these events:
- Remember you are the chief or senior leader; everything you say can be interpreted as policy may insult or discriminate a portion of the human demographic or their beliefs. So always contemplate your statements and responses to questions prior to speaking.
- The manner in which you dress, grooming and your facial and body demeanor when interacting with others will impact the influence you have and how you are perceived as a person and professional leader.
- The most beautiful words to the ear are the sound of our own name. When meeting people for the first time and especially when you see them again work really hard on listening skills and recalling their name. The more interest you demonstrate in them, the appealing you will be to them. The other advantage will get to know there values and interests so that you are better prepared for more meaningful interaction when you next meet. When you are selling an idea, budget or yourself it is important to communicate in a manner the other person is comfortable with and accustom to hearing.
- When including recognitions as a part of your oral presentation at events ensure you do not overlook someone of equal or greater importance than the persons you are recognizing. Include those people who are worthy of recognition who are not in attendance. Make sure you survey the room when you arrive and look over the agenda to reinforce your awareness of the theme, speakers and who is in attendance.
- Everything you say should be important, to the point and directly related to the subject of the discussion or the event you attending. Inserting some well thought out humor is fine as long as it does not insult anyone or violate good etiquette practice. Be very careful in the humor category.
- Eye contact is important when speaking and listening.
- When testifying in depositions, in court or in other legal procedures ensure you have legal counsel at your side and you have been well prepared in advance of the proceedings.
- Always be prepared to speak when attending events, even if you are not scheduled to speak. You may be asked to “say a few words” given the position you hold. Having a paragraph or two in your suit coat or purse is always a good practice.
- Follow up. It is good practice to send a note of thanks and documenting any commitments made during your meeting to acquaintances or first time personal encounters a (either hand written or electronic) within the next days after a personal encounter, meeting or conference.
Ultimately the best approach to ensuring we portray ourselves as leaders is through preparation and review of proper etiquette when attending a variety of events or interacting with others. The best advice is ensure we have respect for others, sensitivity for differencing beliefs, dress properly for the occasion and practice good communications skills. If we are trustworthy, approachable, honorable, and honest it will show through and others will respect you for the person you are. To complete this person who others trust, like and respect, practicing proper etiquette will assist you significantly in becoming a successful leader.
There are many websites where good etiquette advice can be found. One suggested site is http://www.emilypost.com/