About a year ago Pope Francis gave a speech to Vatican staff, that most firefighters can learn from. He touched on 15 issues wrong with the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is one of the largest, oldest, and most organized institutions in the world, yet the issues they face are similar to those we face in the fire service today. We need to realize these issues are universal to organizations big and small and not let them bother of us or effect our performance. Instead we as leaders should move to eradicate these behaviors from our departments. Here are ten of the Pope’s 15 issues (leaving out the ones that applied solely to religion).
1. Leadership or employees feeling indispensable: A person or organization “that doesn’t criticise itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.”
2. The ailment of excessive planning and functionalism: “this is when we plan everything in detail and believe that, by perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming a sort of accountant. … One falls prey to this sickness because it is easier and more convenient to settle into static and unchanging positions.”
3. Working without coordination: “When the foot tells the hand, ‘I don’t need you’ or the hand tells the head ‘I’m in charge.'”
4. Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease: “forgetting why we got involved in helping others and what lead us down this path.”
5. Being rivals or boastful: “when appearances, insignia and honors become the most important aim in life… It is the disorder that leads us to become false men and women…”
6. Gossiping: “It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.”
7. Sucking up to leadership: “It’s the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism…”
8. Being indifferent to others: “When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.”
9. Forming closed circles that seek to be stronger than the whole: “This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad – scandals – especially to our younger brothers.”
10. Showing off and seeking profit or power: “It’s the sickness of those who insatiably try to multiply their powers and to do so are capable of calumny, defamation and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally to show themselves as being more capable than others.”
Leaders need to realize that not everyone loves their department and that almost every firefighter has had that moment when they are fed up. That point in time where they are done, they either quit (literally or figuratively) or press on with mounting frustration trying to make things better. Most of the problems that cause these moments are caused by one of the issues listed above. After they become disenfranchised they start looking for things that are wrong with the places they volunteer or work and get into the mindset that their department is the only one that has these issues. They let their frustrations get to them and affect their performance. They either stop trying to improve or move on to another department. Many will find that the grass is not always greener and most departments suffer from the same issues.
The first step to solving any problem is admitting that there is one. Ignoring those issues and allowing them to penetrate our attitudes towards our organizations only perpetuates the problem. Instead of allowing these issues to become excuses for letting our performance and morale decline, we should learn from them and try to cure these cancers in our organizations. Every officer and firefighter needs to ask someone they respect whether or not they do one of the things on this list. If you want to be better you need to swallow the bitter truth that none of us is perfect and we all do at least one of the things the Pope talked about. I know I have become a better person and firefighter by asking people my faults as opposed to my strengths. This may not be easy but if you want to become an effective leader it is imperative. Some leaders need to be told (in a tactful way) they are acting in a manner which ruins morale because they have no idea they are doing these things. It’s not an easy task but turning your back on your department, either by leaving for another (that will inevitably have the same issues) or by becoming bitter and allowing your performance to regress will not change anything. Don’t give up or quit and never take the easy way out. “Anyone can run away, it’s super easy! Facing problems and working through them, that’s what makes you strong!”