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Halos or Horns?

Personality conflicts can create issues unless addressed within departments

If there is a sport that every volunteer department seems to be an expert at, it is “personality conflicts.” Although it might be nice if we could all get along, that seems to be too much to ask.

It also seems like the fights are between the same people or have the same players. The end result is that members end up picking sides; some seem to have halos, the others horns.

The results of this division are usually pretty obvious. Every time “George” speaks, you see eyes rolling or even worse, daggers. There is nothing that George can do right, because he has already earned his horns.

He has upset all types of members, and now everything he does is wrong. Even if he is right, he is wrong. Even if he has an idea that will make the department better, because it was George’s idea, it will never happen.

On the flip side, there is John. John is the “golden boy,” who is always right, even when he is wrong. He is everyone’s friend, and can do no wrong. Usually John is the one who can “set George right,” no matter what it takes. John is the life of the party and is what every member should aim to be.

It would seem that the simple thing to do for department unity is to eliminate George. Departments are good at this. They will make George’s life miserable until he quits or shuts up.

George will be sacrificed because of his horns, and punished for everything he does wrong. Every requirement will be strictly enforced for George, even if the requirements are ignored for John.

The problem with eliminating George is that someone will end up replacing George and the cycle will continue. Departments end up being accused of favoritism, being an old boy’s network, and becoming split further apart.

Rather than developing ways to handle those with horns or halos, the names just change. Members come and go, but the department ends up weaker with each turn.

Strengthening the department requires an honest understanding of the existence of both those with halos and horns.

The best question to ask is whether or not you would have the same reaction if someone else made the recommendation? For example, if John offered the same idea that George did, how would the department react? This simple questioning process is the first step in making ourselves aware of the biases that can exist in our departments.

After we have identified those with horns and halos, the next step is to bring them both to a middle ground. No one is ever perfect or evil, they are always somewhere in between. The problem with human nature is that once we give someone a label, it stays.

Any errors by someone with horns will just help reinforce the negative stereotype, while the same thing would be ignored from someone with a halo. The goal is to make an even playing ground for everyone involved.

Developing a stable department requires bringing both those with halos and horns to the table. They both have a valid viewpoint, and often together they can make something better than they could individually.

Awareness of the existence of halos and horns in the first place is a step toward finding stability. Fairness comes from identifying and valuing all perspectives, no matter who brings them to the table.

Volunteer fire departments face a unique set of challenges. Learn how to manage or serve on a volunteer department with Jason Zigmont, founder of, in his FireRescue1 exclusive column, ‘Volunteer Professionals.’
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