Tag Archives: leadership

National Incident Management System | FEMA.gov

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National Incident Management System | FEMA.gov.

The above link will take you to the Full Guidance Documents & Links

Box vs Out-of-the-Box Thinking

box        John Alston

Box Thinking

A few years back, I had a great opportunity, during one of our planning sessions, to take notice of a particular “world” view held by a facilitator. The session was an emergency management development group.  It was sponsored by a dear friend and was facilitated by two other individuals.  These persons were not from our agency or group.  They were not familiar with its culture and underpinnings. They led us on different approaches to arrive at some of the decisions that we had to make.  That was the great part!  I like learning new methods and challenging some ideas that may have outlived their usefulness.

However, the not-so-great part was that, as the days went on, I got a sense that one of the facilitators may have been harboring a little negative, possibly condescending, attitude.  It was noticeable, in his comments and gestures.  I tried to shake it, because anyone can have a bad day (theirs or yours).  First impressions, although are usually “spot on”, can sometimes be misleads.  You have to give presenters a chance. People who make presentations to others know that you have to warm up the room, get a read and then proceed.  You may have to change methods, tactics and directions to get your room to “buy-in”. But I digress!  Okay, this guy bothered me. The feeling I had just wouldn’t go away.  As the days went on into multiphase sessions, that sense increased.   I thought, “Hey, this guy doesn’t know us.”.

Then, it happened:  One of my colleagues made a suggestion.  It was a great idea, by the way. It was based on sound past practices. It seemed feasible.  It was succinct.  But the response from the facilitator was, “Well, you’re just not an “Out-of-the-Box thinker”.   I then saw my colleague retreat and shut down.

You’re just not an out of the box thinker? I thought to myself; the way that statement was delivered was condescending. It seemed as if he was saying to the person, “You’re not that creative”, ; “You’re not that bright!, “You’re not intelligent enough.”, “You’re not that flexible.” You’re rigid. You don’t know what we know.  YOU’RE NOT THINKING!   I took umbrage to that and I didn’t like it either. 😉

When you tell someone that they’re not an out-of-the-box thinker,  it shouldn’t be a negative.

I find that “Box” and “Out-of-the-box” thinkers are both needed in planning situations and emergency management.  In our day-to-day situations, Box Thinkers are very clear on their roles and responsibilities. They are clear on the “space” they occupy.  They can prove to be invaluable, under many circumstances.  They have full knowledge of their position in the organization and are detail oriented.

If you’re going to be a “Box Thinker”, though, be sure to handle everything within the box.

I know it may seem like an abstract analogy but follow me for a little while.  Be clear on where your box fits into the entire operation.  Know the relationship and responsibilities that your box has to the other boxes adjacent to, below and above your box.

EXAMPLE: If you’re a company officer and your “box” is being on the Ladder Company; “Handle everything within your box!  If your task, that day, is to perform search & rescue then handle everything in your box!  If you’re assigned to be the supervisor, on the third floor or division three of the building, then you are responsible for everything within that box.  Fire suppression, search and rescue, ventilation, salvage, pre-&post- control overhaul, etc.  Know the  authority, resources and tools that are necessary for the box, completely.  If your box is ventilation; then you should know everything there is to know about Ventilation: positive pressure, negative pressure, hydraulic, mechanical, natural, vertical, horizontal.  You need to know when to apply what and at what appropriate time.  Handle everything within that box.

When you’re an out-of-the-box thinker it means that you have the ability or the wherewithal to step outside of the norm; or you just decided to think of things in a different way.  That doesn’t make you a better thinker than the people who do think within the box.

EXAMPLE:  If your box is OPERATIONS, at an incident, and you are the Operations Section Chief…handle everything within your box.  Assign the necessary tasks, establish the correct groups, place them in and on the proper divisions.  Call up the appropriate resources.  Provide for accountability and safety measures.  Monitor progress.  Be clear on your communications, directions and requests.  Staff all required positions.  Use checklists.    And…and…and…

MASTER YOUR BOX!

Additionally, to be an “Out-of-the-box” thinker means that you can take the conventional methods, the tried and true methods and apply them in a different way.  You may have the ability not use the conventional methods at all and still realize a successful outcome.  You know the standards.  You just look at the situation in a different way. You may want to come up with a different or alternative means to perform the same task.  You may very well look at things completely different.

In Emergency Management, when you think outside of the box you are still utilizing box thinking to formulate your idea.  You have to.  Think of it as a Stringed Quartet vs. a Jazz Quartet.  It’s still music.  One is very structured and the other more improvisational and yet they still utilize some of the same instruments, chords and notes to produce the final sound that they desire.  It can even be the same song or piece of music.  Very often the stringed quartet can make improvisations or perform different interpretations to the classical pieces.

“Out-of-the-Box thinking” is no greater than “Box thinking”, when it’s done completely. It just means that we have different approaches to achieving a successful outcome..

I think they’re both great and I that any individual can possess both characteristics of a “Box or Out-of-the-Box thinker.

Which one are you and why do you think so?

13 Career Crushers

No Matter the Industry!
No Matter the Industry!
The 13 Career Crushers are universal indexes.
My take:
  1. Revenge is a dish best served cold or not at all…
  2. Treat others better than you want to be treated
  3. Use lists, take notes and a calender (planner)
  4. Keep your personal business “PERSONAL” – Manage
  5. Understand and practice your organization’s mission and goals
  6. Take care of your self; work, refresh and rest
  7. Stay current with industry and technology trends
  8. Stay trustworthy and transparent not C.Y.A.
  9. Respect your superiors, if not the person the position
  10. Truth crushed to earth will rise again
  11. Aggressive and/or Vociferous alignment or posturing is never good.
  12. Cutting corners is still cutting something
  13. Stay on your “A-Game”.  Know your job and everyone elses.

What’s your take???

The Art of Leadership

True Leaders:

Many aspire to Leadership, but few understand its true nature.  Leadership is not an ego game.  True leaders have vision and place the goals of the institution above their own interests.  True leaders realize the importance of the people working with them.  True leaders are not only open to good ideas, but also have the courage to implement them. j. donald walters

 A few years ago, I (@j_alston) read a book by J. Donald Walters titled, “The Art of Leadership“.  At the time, I thought it was a short and simple read.  Oh how wrong that turned out to be.  Since the first time I picked it up, I have been carrying it with me for about 11 years.  It continues to yield great insight and confirmation.  It has also been published under the title, “The Art of Supportive Leadership“; How very telling that title appears to be.  It tells me that, being a leader, is not always the idea of getting support from the people you work with; but moreover being supportive of them as well.  It is reciprocal. Their is a flow of energy, ideas and support; that is continuous. Symbiotic, as it were.

There are so many books on Leadership and Management.  It is sometimes hard to choose the right ones.  There are books that are specific to Fire and Emergency Management Services; and then there are those like this one that provide those critical nuggets of wisdom; those bursts of clarity that guide us, ever so gently, towards the right path.


Some of what I got from it:

  • Understand the Nature of Leadership (It’s about people, “DUH”!)
  • Lose the Ego (Easing God Out)
  • Have Clarity of Vision (Knowing who you are and your purpose)
  • Never lose sight of the goals of your institution or organization
  • Recognize the importance of the people working with you (Collectively and Individually)
  • Be Supportive
  • De-prioritize your own personal ambitions, as they relate to others and your organization
  • Be open and receptive
  • Give value to the opinions of others
  • Have the courage to implement action and change course when necessary

WHERE THERE IS RIGHT ACTION…THERE IS VICTORY.

– Sanskrit Proverb

more to follow…

Pass It On!!!

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Got the tremendous opportunity to share some things with an incredible Fire Chief, Billy Goldfeder.  He put them in a book with the addition of some other fire and emergency personnel.

Click here for more: Pass It On

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Be the Thermostat…Not the Thermometer

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by John Alston

(podcast “PLAY” button below)
 When talking to Fire Officers I find that many, sometimes, fall into two basic categories:
“Thermometers” and  “Thermostats”
Sometimes they find themselves, in one of two of these categories, through no fault of their own.  Through discussion at meetings and by gauging the types of questions that they ask; or positions they assert; I wonder how they arrived there.  Is it the “climate” where they work?  Maybe the orientation or initiation they received.  I surmise that  long before they rose through the ranks, their indoctrination, association and/or training dictated their category… and they can’t shake it. Was it osmosis???  The old nature-nurture debate???  No one can give a definitive answer.A more pertinent question: Is there a system or process in place to move Fire Officers into one of these two categories?  Is there a process to change them from one category to the other?
Thermometers:
Thermometers (definition – an instrument that reads or measures temperature) read the temperature in the room and display there findings. They do not initiate their own actions.  They wait until something happens and then display themselves. They change constantly, based on other conditions.  Thermometers are sometimes fickle or, at best, just register/report/represent the “ambient” temperature.  In other words, you don’t get a true read.  Sometimes there is a delay in their response. They do not initiate anything.  They react and respond to outside influences.
Thermostats:
Thermostats (definition – an automatic or manual device for regulating temperature), on the other hand, are changers. They have the ability to effect and affect their environment.  They can cause us to become warm or cold.  They can alter the atmosphere.  They can make us/others uncomfortable or motivate us to change.  They can have a negative effect, at times. But if they are set right, they continue to do their job correctly.  Thermostats can handle the heat and the cold, seamlessly.  The good ones do their job efficiently.
Which One Are You?
more to follow…

Copyright 2015 John Alston. All rights reserved.

“Congrats”, Dr. Onieal!

Dr. Onieal

Congratulations, Chief!

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Former Jersey City Fire Chief and native son Dr. Denis Onieal, who is now Superintendent of the National Fire Academy, has been selected by the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s Board of Directors as the recipient of the 2015 CFSI/Motorola Solutions Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award. The presentation will take place at the 27th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner on April 16th at the Washington Hilton, in Washington, D.C.

Established in 1998 and co-sponsored by CFSI and Motorola Solutions, the Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have been proactive at the local, state and federal government levels to improve and advance fire/emergency services and life safety issues. Representing a cross section of the fire and emergency services, previous recipients include chiefs, instructors, career and volunteer leaders and public safety advocates.

Dr. Onieal has served as Superintendent of the National Fire Academy since 1995, providing leadership to advance the professional development of fire service leaders of today and tomorrow. Through his efforts, the National Fire Academy has greatly expanded training opportunities for fire service personnel and enhanced NFA’s executive, management, and all-hazard community response and risk reduction curriculums. Working closely with State fire training agencies, NFA courses are now offered through every accredited State training agency in the country. Under Onieal’s leadership, the NFA curriculum has been completely revised to include equivalent college credit recommendation and continuing education units for all resident, off-campus and on-line deliveries. For the first time ever, fire degree programs across the nation are following a standard curriculum and syllabi, and work in close cooperation with State fire training agencies. This combination of standardized training and education is the foundation for professional status for the fire and emergency services.

Acting as a catalyst to improve the fire service, Dr. Onieal continues to write articles and deliver presentations across the nation on professional development within the fire service. His work in this regard has reached thousands of fire service personnel, providing them the encouragement to pursue their academic studies in addition to their fire service training. While rising through the ranks of the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department, he pursued his own professional development opportunities which eventually lead to a Doctor of Education degree from the New York University in 1990.

“The CFSI Board of Directors congratulates Dr. Denis Onieal on being selected as the recipient of the 2015 CFSI/Motorola Solutions Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award,” said Bill Jenaway, President of the Congressional Fire Service Institute. “He embodies the passion and dedication that the late-Mason Lankford demonstrated in making the fire service a safer profession. We look forward to honoring Dr. Onieal at the 27th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.”

For additional information about the 27th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program, visit the CFSI website at www.cfsi.org. This event benefits the mission of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization designed to educate members of Congress about fire and life safety issues.

Contact: Bill Webb (202) 371-1277

Catch a quick podcast I was fortunate to grab with my friend and mentor, Dr. Denis (CHIEF) Onieal.

5 Failures of Command

936680_331981183594673_40530468_n  by John Alston
Recently, I had a conversation with a group of Fire Officers about the state of Leadership and Character, in the ranks of the modern day fire service. I stated, without fear of contradiction that the “First-line Supervisor” Rank was the most critical position on the job.  We all agreed.  We went through all of the ranks and discussed them, 1 by 1; their impact on our profession, in all of its aspects. We then began to discuss the effectiveness and/or the lack thereof. We are willing to stipulate that there are so many areas to cover, that we ran out of time. There were so many items that we had to start narrowing the focus.   We got down to 5.
They are:
1) Poor Communications
2) Lack of Accountability
3) Lack of Discipline
4) Lack of Commitment
5) Lack of Training
  1. Poor Communications – As is stated, so many times, communication is the principle method by which we get things done.  At every level in the fire service, when there is a gap in service (both for our External and Internal Customers), the lack of communications or poor communication rises to the top of the list.  Whether in the Fire Station, Headquarters or in the street, poor communications are at the root of calamities, disasters and miscues.   Written orders, guidelines and rules must be clearly formulated and clearly communicated. Public Fire Education and Fire Prevention efforts must take the “end-user” into consideration.  Complete and succinct information can make working with the public, on important issues, so much more easier.  Yet, many Officers are not trained in effective communications and many don’t know when communications have gone awry.
  2. Lack of Accountability – ACCOUNTABILITY: for actions and responsibilities; for crew members, equipment and tasks, particularly at the scene of emergencies.  Lack of Accountability could also be classified as a Lack of Responsibility; members being responsible for their own actions. A few years back, I saw so many classes being offered on Accountability Systems, Rapid Intervention Crews, May-Day’s and Self-Rescue techniques.  I taught many of them.  The prevailing issue that came up was working to keep our people from getting into those situations in the first place. Purposeful and proactive accountability can aid to that end.  When we impress upon our people that situational awareness is paramount, we are telling them to be accountable.
  3. Lack of Discipline – Our service is effected, negatively, not by the exercise and issuance of discipline, but by the lack of the same.  Many members talk about the lack of morale from time to time.  Some attribute it to contracts, equipment, schedules, the person at the top, Officers, etc.  However, I can say that the lack of discipline is a more pernicious element to low morale than any other.  It’s easy to blame the Chief, Commissioner or Fire Director for your woes, however, what is going on in your neck of the woods.  What about the things you have direct control over.  I have found that when discipline is effectively applied and evenly enforced; when members know what your expectations are and you are willing to hold them to the standards, morale and productivity improve.  It starts and ends with you!  Yes, YOU!  Lack of discipline, in your own personal and professional demeanor/deportment, can be contagious.  You wear your uniform improperly, so will your subordinates; come to work late and stay unshaven/disheveled, so will your subordinates; cut corners, they will; break rules, they will.
  4. Lack of Commitment – I am a big proponent of commitments and being sure that you are clear on them. It is a significant character trait for firefighters and fire officers that is severely lacking these days.  I have seen a great shift from a true commitment to the job, your crew, your officer and yourself  to a true commitment to “yourself”.  The number of self-centered, self-absorbed, conceited and narcissistic firefighters is at an all time high.  It permeates every aspect of our service and I don’t see the trend slowing.  There are several reasons why, but commitment stands out.  Look up from the phone, laptop and/or iPAD and see what has happened to our beloved profession.  It’s not pretty.
  5. Lack of Training – How does one get to Carnegie Hall?; Practice, Practice, Practice.  How does one become an Effective Commander in the Fire Service (one that members will Trust)? TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN!  You have to train, to acquire the confidence, skill sets and competence to operate in your position. You must read, take courses and network with other more experienced fire officers to stay abreast of emerging technologies.  You must seek a mentor and then be  a mentor to someone else.  Your training must be multi-disciplined.  There are some great corporate management books out there.  There is required reading for our profession and acquired reading.  Be a sponge.  Continue on a course of achievement and education.  It works!

expanded podcast online…

 Copyright 2012 John Alston. All rights reserved.