5 rules to being a great mentor

Mentoring those we like is easy; the real challenge is helping those less like us or less motivated to be the best they can

One of your top leadership priorities is to help develop all of the people under your command. The desire is for everyone to be a successful, engaged and contributing member of your agency. This development process needs to occur regardless of the member's level (rank, seniority and informal status) within the organization. 

Further, the leader's mentoring efforts must be independent of the member's talents, skills, knowledge and abilities. The leader must focus on making everyone a better firefighter and not just the few "chosen" ones.

The best leaders in our business (in any type of business for that matter) always take the time and effort to help each member to improve in every way possible. The great leaders help everyone to reach for the highest level that they can attain. In fact, being a role model, mentor and trainer is just below the leaders' personal obligation and responsibility to always ensure of the safety and survival of their members.

One of the many common traits that great leaders seem to possess is that those around them are better from their association and supervision by that specific officer. This month's "Tip of the Spear" acknowledgment goes out to former Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Fenty always took the time to develop everyone in his circle of subordinates. I benefited greatly because of the time that Fenty took to help me become a better leader and person. Mayor Fenty, this tip of the fire helmet goes out to you along with my sincerest thank you, sir.

The first mentor

I am sure that most everyone has had the pleasure of experiencing at least a few personal advocates, mentors or role models in their life. Of course, I am speaking about a person's parents.

From the very beginning of life, both mom and dad takes great interest in and provides focused support for their offspring. I don't want to get carried away, but that is a powerful example of "membership advocacy" developing a person to the best regardless of ones abilities. 

The leadership rule of mentoring and role modeling to children is good way to think about that role in the fire service. Most folks have had a parental figure in their life and may now have children of their own. 

So, the bar has been established and the training has been provided for just about everyone early in life. It is a simple matter of the fire department leader to stepping up and becoming the great mentor that lurks deep inside all of us.

Well, not so fast. Let's quickly review the rules of proper mentoring and role modeling.

5 rules to mentor by

1. You must be a mentor to everyone under your command, not just the few who look and act like you. Be a mentor for the many. Sometimes, the human condition gets in the way and we focus on the people like us. Don't fall into the trap of helping only those you like. 

2. When your skills of developing people into better members are noticed outside of your department, be prepared for others to ask for your help. This is a great compliment that validates your leadership skills and abilities; honor those requests whenever possible.

3. Not every one will be as capable to follow your lead and improved at the rate and to the level that you expect. Be patient with everyone that you work or volunteer with, they just might surprise you. If you give each one your best effort, the sky just might be the limit for their improvement.

4. Allow the bright and fast learners to be your helpers in developing other folks. A great way to give other members more real responsibility is by letting them help others become better firefighters. 

5. Not everyone will share your enthusiasm and motivation to move up the departmental ladder. I've always wanted everyone to be all consumed by their commitment to the department. However, that is not realistic, so keep your expectations of each member in the proper perspective.

Not every one wants to be or has the skill set to be the fire chief. Be realistic in your preparation of members, but help every single one in your command to be a better member. 

If you take this advice, you will be very successful in your fire-rescue service career or your volunteer vocation. Remember, a great fire department is composed of great members and officers at all skill levels and abilities.

Every single member needs to be able to flawlessly execute the basics of their job. A great department needs good firefighters, good pre-hospital care providers, good apparatus drivers, good command officers and good command officers not just everyone hanging on to become the chief.

One of the ranking generals of World War I remarked,  "…first the horses, then the men, then the officers and finally, the generals…." Take care of your people and they will take care of you. Until next time, please be safe out there.

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