Friday, October 30, 2015

Growing a Team


Straw bale garden
(Photo credit: Carson NF, Tres Piedras RD)

 Growing a Team

(Submitted as part of the 2015 Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge IGNITE the Spark for Leadership Contest)

Task

The main task of the Growing a Team project was to build, cultivate and share a straw bale garden. Straw bale gardening can be done anywhere water and sunlight are available. The bale is saturated, and then fertilized with very inexpensive nitrogen pellets. Within two weeks the bale starts to naturally decompose and become its own organic planting ground. The general gardening idea along with tips and tricks was derived from the book Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten. Our team’s garden was constructed behind the fire cache at our ranger station in northern New Mexico. We substituted alfalfa bales for straw that were donated to the effort by the range program.

A zen space
(Photo credit: Carson NF, Tres Piedras RD)
Straw bale gardening
(Photo credit: Carson NF, Tres Piedras RD)


Purpose

The purpose was to put together an easy, minimum-effort garden. The garden was intended to serve as a “zen” spot. Anyone could escape to get away from their desk or away from the phone, snap into a string bean, take a breath of fresh air and reset the mind so they could more effectively tackle the rest of the day. The garden was to be constructed by multiple functions to create team input, buy-in, ownership, and mostly shared benefit.

Straw bale garden
(Photo credit: Carson NF, Tres Piedras RD)
Fresh vegetables
(Photo credit: Carson NF, Tres Piedras RD)

End State

The end state was to be a non-obtrusive but pleasant diversion for members of the office to reap some homegrown produce. I don’t know what it is exactly, but there seems to be a quiet joy and satisfaction derived from enjoying produce that is picked by the individual. It is instantly therapeutic. In this day and age when there is so much emphasis on natural foods and their health benefits, this provides the vehicle for your team to enjoy the benefits of an improved diet. This would take a well-planned and fairly prolific garden to successfully accomplish but is easily conceivable and theoretically not difficult. I don’t mean to plug the book, but detailing straw bale garden success would just be reinventing the wheel. Our garden was mildly successful but as most things go, the first try is usually less successful than desired. A larger group to share the burden would have been helpful but also the honest trial and error of garden placement will have an effect on results as well.

Aaron Livingston
Assistant Engine Captain
Carson National Forest, Tres Piedras Ranger District
For more information on the Growing a Team project contact Aaron @ alivingston@fs.fed.us

2015 Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge logo

Thursday, October 29, 2015

IGNITE: The Heart & Spirit

People are the heart and spirit of all that counts. - Max De Pree

People are the heart and spirit of all that counts. - Max De Pree

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Avoiding a One-Size-Fits-All Leadership Style

(Chief Kelly Zombro, CalFire, talking about the 2003 Cedar Fire near San Diego, CA)

How many times have you taken a profile or survey to help you identify your leadership style? These profiles can give you a idea of your overall leadership preference. However, what individuals need to realize is that leaders should adapt their styles as the situation warrants. How you prefer to lead and how you should be leading under a given situation may be very different things. Avoid leading with a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Situational Leadership
Leaders use a variety of power sources and leadership styles to influence others. Being able to select the most effective leadership tools in a given situation is an application of situational leadership.
Power can be defined as a person’s ability to influence the actions of others. How leaders use power shapes others’ perception of their ability to lead. A leader’s ability to read a situation and apply the appropriate source of power enhances their ability to lead.

The more visible power is, the less it works. The less explicitly leaders rely on power to accomplish tasks, the greater their power actually is. Those who rely on position, reward, or discipline power have less real influence on others. On the other hand, those who are able to rely on expert power and respect power—less overt forms of power—often influence in ways that have more far-reaching and deep effects.

To gain power, the most effective leaders give it away. By giving away some power to team members, leaders actually increase their influence and strengthen their ability to lead. Leaders also use different leadership styles as appropriate for the level of experience of the people involved and the situation.

With inexperienced people or time-critical situations, leaders use a directing style, explicitly telling people what needs to be done. As team members gain experience, leaders increasingly seek team members’ participation in discussions and decision making, working together to devise plans and actions.

Leaders keep sight of the long-term goal of being able to delegate most tasks and responsibilities to experienced and capable team members, setting the conditions that enable them to grow as leaders.

At every step of the way, leaders judiciously employ the amount of supervision required. They provide adequate feedback to make sure people can successfully accomplish the mission yet avoid micro-managing competent team members.

(Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, pp. 38-39)

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper

Monday, October 26, 2015

IGNITE: Vision

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight with no vision. - Helen Keller
The only thing worse than being blind is having sight with no vision. - Helen Keller
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Thursday, October 22, 2015

IGNITE: Stress



Stress isn't working 15 hours at a job you like; stress is working 15 minutes in a job you dislike. - Kathleen Lane
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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Trust and Empathy

NPR TED Radio Hour
(Photo credit: National Public Radio)
I often listen to podcasts when I fly commercial, as I'm not really one for conversations with the stranger sitting next to me on a long flight.  One of my favorite podcasts is NPR's Ted Radio Hour, which weaves together clips from several Ted Talks and interviews with the speakers on a given topic.  On one flight, flying from Tucson to Boise on a roundabout itinerary that took me through Portland - gotta love early-morning cancellations - I found myself listening to a show entitled "Trust and Consequences," and finding lots of ideas that fit in well with fire culture.
Trust, especially in the fire world, is an important, and often elusive thing.  We know that trust is at the core of human interactions, and in relatively high-risk environments is even more critical to success, as a leader or a follower.  We've all been there, the follower who couldn't trust leadership, the leader who couldn't trust certain followers, or just the worker who couldn't trust those around us, for whatever reasons.  It's not fun, it's not good for individuals or groups, and it certainly kills productivity and effectiveness.
Building trust is an interesting subject.  What I notice most about how my organization builds trust is how aside from a few "trust building exercises" that involve trust falls, rope courses, and the like, we really don't talk about much else we can do to build trust within a group.
San Diego Fire and Rescue Department
(Photo credit: San Diego Fire and Rescue Department)
There's often talk within the group about earning trust, most typically expressed by a leader or follower saying "you've got to earn my trust."  But what exactly does that mean?  How do I earn the trust of those around me?  For that matter, what exactly is trust?
Enter author and speaker Simon Sinek.  In his section of this Ted Radio Hour, he talks about a few things that really grabbed my attention.
He defines trust as "feeling safe" with those around you, and he calls it the "foundation of leadership."  I have to say that I agree... If we feel "safe" in our organization, that is to say there's trust, we're more likely to take risks, to explore new ideas and ways of doing business, and work on self-development.  Anytime we put ourselves out there, volunteering for an assignment, taking on new responsibilities, or learning new skills, we're taking on additional risks.  Trust is a tool that allows us to safely take those risks.
Another of Sinek's ideas that I really latched onto was the idea that while trust is often about actions, simply doing what you say you'll do isn't really as big of a trust builder as it would seem to be.  While honoring your word and doing what you say you'll do is a hugely important part of leadership, doing so doesn't necessarily make you more trustworthy, it merely makes you reliable, says Sinek.  And while in an operational sense reliability is good, it's not the whole story when trust is involved.
Sinek advances the idea that trust, between humans, is often built primarily on empathy, that is, being able to understand and share the feelings of another.  Now, before I get accused of getting too "touchy-feely" or saying we all need to be "care bears," think about it a bit.  I know from my experience that the leaders and coworkers I've trusted the most understood the people around them, and often acted with the best interests of the group, personally and collectively, in mind.  In his book "One Bullet Away," former Marine Officer Nathaniel Fick talks about being taught a similar idea in his initial training - "Know your men and look out for their welfare....  They'll follow you through the gates of hell if they trust you truly care about them."

That last sentence leads to another point that Sinek makes about trust...  You can build trust by first giving trust to others.  In the Ted Talk he explains that at a very basic level, if a leader - or follower - expresses empathy first, the natural human response is to trust and cooperate.  While trust is often more complicated than that once we factor in many interactions over time, the concept often proves true when we initially meet someone.  Think about walking in to an operations briefing on a large fire where you don't know anyone... If your supervisor on the fire initially extends trust to you, you're probably more likely to trust in return, and cooperate more than if you're initially not trusted.  I know I certainly trust and cooperate more when I'm extended that courtesy, and I work hard every day to approach my interactions with people in that fashion - I'll choose to trust you until you show me that I can't.
The final point that Sinek makes is that there is no formula to building trust, it just kind of happens.  It's a complex and dynamic thing, as just about everything is when you take human behavior into account.  We're not rational beings, no matter how hard we work to convince ourselves of that, and that irrational nature means that trust isn't something that can be built following a 5-step process... it's more free-flowing, more organic.
What I took away from listening to the podcast, and then thinking about more as I wrote this blog, is that trust is a core element of leadership.  As leaders and followers, we should strive to develop trust in our organizations as best we can, because where there's trust, there's open and honest communication, cohesion, creativity, and most importantly, mutual respect.
You don't have to like someone to trust them, although that doesn't hurt.  You don't have to have a great personal relationship with them, but you do have to work to create trust and respect on a professional level.  The bottom line, for me at least, is that trust is a two way street, as the saying goes, and that we can greatly influence and improve trust if we take that first action.

It's not difficult, really, to express empathy in our daily interactions with others.  It's mainly about being civil to the people around us, which basically means don't be a jerk.  That's it, really.  Don't be jerk, and you're well on your way to building trust, and being a better leader and follower.
Until next time...

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Justin Vernon is a regular guest contributor on our blog. Justin works for the United States Forest Service and is the a member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee as steward of the Professional Reading Program. Check out his Chasing Fire blog. All expressions are those of the author.

Monday, October 19, 2015

IGNITE: Leadership Failures



He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery. - Samuel Smiles
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Friday, October 16, 2015

Fire Transforms


An Introduction: Peter Carpenter from The Smokey Generation on Vimeo.

Individuals enter the wildland fire service; firefighters emerge. For many when fire "gets in your blood," you have a hard time ever giving it up. Through the brotherhood or sisterhood, bonds are made and teams formed.

Peter Carpenter was a Redding Smokejumper from 1959 to 1961. Listen to how a career in wildland firefighting transformed his life in this video from The Smokey Generation.

How has a career in wildland firefighting transformed you?

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What is your story? We challenge you to become a part of this amazing  project and share your leadership stories. Bethany Hannah began The Smokey Generation: A Wildland Fire Oral History and Digital Storytelling Project for her master's thesis. All members of the wildland fire service, not just hotshots, can share their stories by following her example. Click here for potential leadership questions. Visit The Smokey Generation website for complete information.

The Smokey Generation logo

Thursday, October 15, 2015

IGNITE: Keeping Our People Informed




Keeping Our People Informed  Fire leaders show respect by keeping people informed—describing leader’s intent for assignments, providing timely briefings and debriefing, identifying hazards, and answering questions at appropriate times. By keeping our people informed, we consciously create a command climate that fosters appropriate initiative by subordinates.  –Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 50



Keeping Our People Informed

Fire leaders show respect by keeping people informed—describing leader’s intent for assignments, providing timely briefings and debriefing, identifying hazards, and answering questions at appropriate times. By keeping our people informed, we consciously create a command climate that fosters appropriate initiative by subordinates. – Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 50

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tough Decisions Save Lives

Fork in the road decision point
(Photo credit: Con Tanasiuk/Getty Images)
Do you have what it takes to make a tough decision--a decision that could put your career on the line, yet save lives? Even if lives are not at stake, we all experience tough decisions throughout our lifetime. We never really know what we are capable of until we are placed between a "rock and a hard place."

Wildland Fire—A High-Risk Operational Environment

We are asked to make tough decisions under a compressed time frame, given limited information, in a complex and high-risk environment. This operational environment routinely brings together people, machinery, and the destructive energy of wildfire in the close, three-dimensional space of the fireground and its airspace.

Wildland fire operations have inherent risks that cannot be eliminated, even in the best of circumstances. Incident management and response is a competition between human beings and the forces of nature; leaders struggle to manage the effects caused by wildfire and other natural and man-made events. The environment can rapidly and unexpectedly change from normal to emergency conditions to complete chaos.

The environment requires a variety of missions across the operational spectrum, ranging from education and prevention to prescribed fire and fire use to full fire suppression. Increasingly, fire leaders find themselves responding to all-hazard incidents.

Although most danger is close to the fireground, many others besides firefighters have important mission roles. The operational environment is akin to that of an aircraft carrier: although only pilots and aircrew routinely fly into combat, everyone on the ship makes significant contributions to the successful mission—and all aboard have to be prepared to respond to any unfolding emergency.

In the wildland fire service, firefighters, dispatchers, managers, technicians, support services, medical staff, law enforcement, the military, and others are brought together in rapidly assembled temporary teams to accomplish a given mission. These teams have unique capabilities, limitations, qualifications, and experience.

Fire leaders must have the ability to integrate these varied resources into effective and responsive temporary teams.

(Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 10-13)

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge
  • Watch the History Channel's The Man Who Saved the World and PBS's Secrets of the Dead - The Man Who Saved the World about two incidents that could have changed the course of human history during the Cold War. 
  • Discuss how critical thinking and courage can bring calm to chaos.
  • Share personal experiences or historical examples of similar situations.





Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
  • Work with your team to develop a lesson plan for either of the above videos or the movie motion picture The Man Who Saved the World and submit to the Leadership in Cinema steward for consideration in our library via email at BLM_FA_Leadership_Feedback@blm.gov.

What Drives Us Defines Us

Driven
Do you know what motivates and engages those you lead? Society has changed from being motivated by biological drives and rewarding the good and punishing the bad to more outwardly driven motivators.



One of the principles of a mission-driven culture is "service for the common good."By focusing outward instead of seeking internal rewards we can make a difference in the world around us.

Principles of a Mission-Driven Culture

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper

Monday, October 12, 2015

IGNITE: Make a Difference Now


Focus on making a difference now, not changing the world later.  –Dan Rockwell

 Focus on making a difference now, not changing the world later. – Dan Rockwell

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Close Calls and Trusting Your Intuition with Dan Pickard


Close Call, Trusting Intuition from The Smokey Generation on Vimeo.

Have you lost your situation awareness and experienced mission creep? Is your worst-case scenario playing out in front of you? Dan Pickard, Entiat Interagency Hotshot Crew, shares personal stories from the fireline. There is a fine line between success and failure in our business. How can you increase your margin, accept risk, and fulfill the mission? Most importantly, should you even be fighting the fire?

Operational Tempo
(Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 31)

Operational tempo is the speed and intensity of our actions relative to the speed and intensity of unfolding events in the operational environment. Within this context, fire leaders plan, prepare, and execute operations proactively, rather than continuously being forced to react to the environment.

Successfully maintaining operational tempo is not solely about speeding up to match or exceed the pace of the environment. It is also about knowing when operations should slow down and why.
Fire leaders balance activities such as planning, preparation, and action. Too much time spent planning increases the potential for missing opportunities. Too little time spent planning increases the potential for error. A judicious assessment encompasses the capabilities and endurance of resources.

When employing people, leaders weigh expected gain against potential risks. Using too few resources keeps teams from building the momentum needed to gain the advantage. Using too many resources can lead to confusion. Tasking resources beyond their capabilities leaves the team exhausted and unable to respond to an unexpected change in the environment.

We are most vulnerable to accidents and errors when the operational tempo is changing, especially when it changes quickly. Maintaining good situation awareness in spite of change in operational tempo represents a considerable challenge.


The key to managing operational tempo successfully is monitoring the changing environment and capabilities of the team, and then applying good judgment to determine whether to push forward or pull back while making necessary planning and resource adjustments.

An Introduction to the Concept of Margin 



Thursday, October 8, 2015

IGNITE: Duty, Respect & Integrity


The values of duty, respect, and integrity should weigh heavily in any ethical decision.  – Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 64

The values of duty, respect, and integrity should weigh heavily in any ethical decision. – Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 64
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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What Do Your Handprints and Footprints Say About Your Leadership?

Handprints
(Photo credit: Steve Mason)
Have you ever thought about the size and impact of your handprint and your footprint?

I am not talking about the physical measurement of your hand or foot. Nor am I talking about your "personal impacts and the sum total of your better ecological practices"* (although that was actually the inspiration for this blog). I am talking about the positive or negative influences you have on those around you--both those you do and do not know.

Similar to Newton's Third Law of Motion where every action has an equal and opposite reaction, our actions may be felt directly or indirectly, be intended or unintended, and have a positive or negative effect. Awareness of how our actions impact others is a skill every leader should develop and develop well. This requires that we not only take a critical look at ourselves, but also seek and respect feedback from others.


The only "fingerprints" that last are the ones you leave on your people. - General Mark Welsh



In a previous post "Leaving Your Fingerprints Behind," I spoke of the decision to lead  and the impact we have on those we lead. My inspiration for that post was General Mark Welsh's quote "The only 'fingerprints' that last are the ones you leave on your people." As a leader we have the opportunity to "touch" a lot of people. What do your "handprints" and "footprints" have to say about your leadership? Here are a few idioms/phrases or titles/lyrics that come to mind. (Some could be either positive or negative, however.)

The Positive Print
  • "Reach Out and Touch Someone"
  • Walk the talk.
  • "Show Me the Way" or "Walk This Way"
  • Lend a helping hand.
  • "He ain't heavy; he's my brother."
  • "Walk a mile their shoes."
  • Land on one’s feet.
  • "I'd like to build the world a home and furnish it with love..." 
  • Having one’s finger on the pulse.
  • Reaching across the aisle.
  • Tear down the walls.
  • Hand it to someone.
  • Keep one’s feet on the ground.
  • "If You're Happy and You Know It"
  • Put one’s best foot forward.
  • All hands on deck.
  • Knowing something like the back of one’s hand.
 The Negative Print
  • Pull the rug from under one’s feet.
  • Ruling with an iron fist.
  • "Under My Thumb"
  • Rule with a heavy hand.
  • "I'm gonna walk all over you."
  • Kick 'em when they're down.
  • The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
  • Put one’s foot in one’s mouth.
  • Dig in one’s heels."
  • Biting the hand that feeds you.
  • Force someone's hand.
  • Wash one’s hands of something.
What idioms or titles can you add?

The impacts of the prints you leave on those you lead can last a lifetime. Leading with authenticity and heart creates trust. Trust builds teams. Teams work together to change the world.
 
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About the Author:
Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author. Inspiration for the blog came from Daniel Goleman's A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World.

*"Handprint" concept of Gregory Norris of Harvard School of  Public Health.

Monday, October 5, 2015

IGNITE: Adding Value

Adding value to people with high potential who are hungry to grow is one of the best investments a leader can make.  –John Maxwell
 Adding value to people with high potential who are hungry to grow is one of the best investments a leader can make. – John Maxwell
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Friday, October 2, 2015

What are the Characteristics of an Ideal Hotshot?


Characteristics of an Ideal Hotshot from The Smokey Generation on Vimeo.


Characteristics of an Ideal Hotshot from The Smokey Generation on Vimeo.


Characteristics of an Ideal Hotshot from The Smokey Generation on Vimeo.

In these short videos, The Smokey Generation asks Nick Glatt, Wolf Creek Interagency Hotshots, Dan Garcia, U.S. Forest Service FMO, and Dirk Charley, U.S. Forest Service Sierra/Sequoia Tribal Relations Program Manager, what makes the ideal hotshot. Check it out what they have to say.

FITNESS FOR COMMAND
(Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, pp. 61-62)

Our position as leaders requires us to take people into unpredictable situations where mediocre leaders can be quickly overwhelmed in a crisis and make dangerous errors in judgment.

We accept the responsibility to demonstrate fitness for command as leaders in the wildland fire service. Fire leaders prepare for command by learning the applicable technical and leadership skills, by gaining the requisite experience, and by developing the physical, mental, and emotional capabilities through training, certification, and evaluation of behavior.

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What is your story? We challenge you to become a part of this amazing  project and share your leadership stories. Bethany Hannah began The Smokey Generation: A Wildland Fire Oral History and Digital Storytelling Project for her master's thesis. All members of the wildland fire service, not just hotshots, can share their stories by following her example. Click here for potential leadership questions. Visit The Smokey Generation website for complete information.

The Smokey Generation logo


Thursday, October 1, 2015

IGNITE: Ethics & Mission

Although some may judge that leading ethically compromises short-term gains, leading ethically allows us to accomplish more than our mission. –Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 64
Although some may judge that leading ethically compromises short-term gains, leading ethically allows us to accomplish more than our mission. – Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 64
IGNITE the Spark for Leadership. LIKE and SHARE throughout your networks. ‪#‎fireleadership ‪#‎fireminis