I have spent much of the past few weeks training fireservice leaders through programs presented by SBM Fire Department and by Gasaway ConsultingGroup. These have been 3-hour sessions addressing multiple audiences. The concentrated repetition of topics, together with the diverse audiences (many departments, all levels of experience) have stimulated some new ideas, and challenged me to hone some of my established material. The time has come for some blogging…
One new insight arose from an extended discussion of the different skills and passions required to do great work in the fire service. Fire chiefs and trainers across the country are rightly focused on professionalism: cultivating skills, sound judgment, and a level-headed commitment to duty. These are indeed necessary qualities in our first responders and those who lead them. The same holds true for many other worthy endeavors. Fire service leaders seek to be recognized and respected as professionals.
When we use the term, amateur, by contrast, it often carries only negative connotations. That is a mistake. The great strength of amateurism is revealed by its linguistic roots: the word originates from the Latin for to love, amare. An amateur is one who is driven by a love for the job. Indeed, it takes great passion and a desire for community service to do the work of the fire service really well, from answering midnight pages, to treating even difficult customers with respect and compassion. To love the job, working with passion and intrinsic motivation – to be an amateur, in the purest sense – takes nothing away from professionalism.
Wise folks do not take love for granted. This should include the spirit of amateurism. If we make it onerous to answer the call to duty, fewer will do so. If our teams marginalize individuals, they squander the passions of those individuals, at everyone’s expense. Too often, I have seen people turn away from their team when a misunderstanding goes unaddressed, or when an isolated mistake becomes a topic of ridicule. These people may not say anything; they might just show up less often, and respond less passionately. It is worth asking what might be inhibiting our teammates’ passion for the job, and worth looking into our own hearts for evidence of the same inhibitions. A little attention to these matters can go a long way to returning people to doing and feeling their best.
Unfortunately, we tend to link the perception of professionalism with compensation. In the fire service, there is an enduring tension between paid-on-call (POC) and career firefighters. Misperceptions abound: some hold that POC personnel are less skilled, while others hold that career personnel see their service as nothing more than a job. As measures of reality, these generalizations don’t hold up: plenty of POC responders are exceedingly capable, and plenty of career responders are as passionate as anyone wearing turnout gear (or a Sparky the Dog suit, for that matter).
For our purposes, those stereotypes are accidentally instructive. They remind us that ethical leaders must display both the talent, sound judgment, and sense of duty that we associate with professionals and the passion and sense of community that animate the best amateurs. We should cultivate and celebrate both professionalism and passion, and take care that our pursuit of one does not inhibit the other.
By recognizing the compelling power of love for the job, we can be more conscious about cultivating it. We can also address those practices, behaviors, or habits that make it harder for people to love their jobs or to feel connected with their teams and communities. We can see that they are costly mistakes, and take decisive action to correct them.
Let us all seek to be our best: as passionate professionals, or skilled, dutiful amateurs, regardless of our compensation. Let us create and maintain environments that promote excellence and love for the job.