January typically is the month in which organizations set goals and directions for the next year, and the IAFC is no different. The association will host a meeting this month to help develop its strategic direction.
For many organizations, January also is the start of a new budget year and fiscal plan. (Note that I didn’t say whether it would be a better year economically, just a new year.) You likely have started such processes for your organization. But what have you done for yourself?
A department can’t progress if its leader doesn’t do so. Have you developed your own vision or goals for the future? Taking some time to think about your personal journey — and making a commitment to check your progress occasionally — will produce a firm foundation from which to lead your organization.
Those of you who travel have heard this many times: Should the cabin pressure drop, place your own mask on first before helping others. You can’t help your organization if you don’t first take care of yourself.
It’s important for even veteran fire chiefs to keep learning and develop professionally. Things change quickly in our environment — new tax laws, technology, social media, community demographics and fire-service safety standards, to name a few. If you don’t make the effort to keep learning, you fall behind quickly. That doesn’t mean becoming an expert in all things, but it does mean keeping our minds agile and exposed to new ideas.
In addition to keeping our minds in shape, we need to keep our bodies healthy. Throughout my career, the officers who led by example had the greatest impact on me. It is difficult to encourage our firefighters and staff to exercise and improve their eating habits if we don’t set the right example. You don’t have to run a marathon or bench press 200 pounds, but you can do simple things that reflect a healthy life style.
By investing in your mental and physical well-being you are at your best to support the department. But sometimes you may need help from others. Building your team is critical to your longterm success. For example, do you have that backup plan in case you get sick or injured, or have a family emergency? Is your department capable of running smoothly in your absence? Can you take time off to care of yourself or your family without worrying about work?
Here is the really hard one: Does this ability extend to taking some time off for that long-overdue vacation? We all need time away from the job to recharge our batteries. Schedule that time — whether it’s with family and friends or just some quite time alone — and work with your team to help you stick to it.
I currently am reading Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. The book discusses how much willpower we have and how many things we can handle at one time. One quote stuck with me: “One mess at a time is all you can handle.”
The most frustrating thing about this exercise might be the stress of adding another item to your already overflowing to-do list. Be careful not to overdo it and be realistic with your goal setting. Go ahead and make that list of New Year goals, then cross out everything but the first two or three. When we take care of ourselves, a small investment pays off.
I wish everyone a safe new year and the best of luck with developing your personal plan of action for 2013 and beyond.