By Author(s): Jim Broman 
Published Tuesday, January 1, 2008
| From the January 2008  Issue of FireRescue 
As I walk through my office door each day, I am often reminded of situations and challenges that may overwhelm or exhaust my knowledge and skills. Although this reality may intimidate even the most competent of officers, we can still succeed if we thoughtfully equip our “leadership toolbox” with an array of effective support and assistance resources.
At a significant incident, your training and experience enable you to determine whether you can achieve your objectives with the tools at hand, or whether the situation requires you to tap additional resources. Away from the incident scene, your responsibilities can just as easily exceed your capabilities. In the less urgent context of day-to-day leadership, you can define and achieve your objectives by tapping a multitude of administrative, managerial and leadership resources. And just like on the incident scene, you must know where and how to access them. As such, you should develop a robust “managerial” resource guide and have it readily available. Fortunately, with today’s technology, the portal to many of these resources can fit in the palm of your hand.
This issue of FireRescue magazine offers a Resource Guide containing a variety of organizational resources. I suggest you review them and consider including them in your personal resource toolbox. Further, you can build your resources through the Web, networking and the library. Let’s review all three approaches to building your leadership toolbox.
Your network is an interconnected group of professional contacts—from within the fire service and beyond—that interlaces or crosses like the cords in a net. The broader and more diverse this network, the richer and stronger your resource “net.”
How do you develop your network? Trusted colleagues—often a first choice with whom you share challenges and questions—form guidelines in your network. You may also have mentors, senior officers or capable peers to whom you can turn for consultation and dialogue.
You build this network over time, connecting through training, education, the National Fire Academy, community organizations and professional associations. Networking is an exchange proposition; be prepared to receive the call, be a good listener and engage in the issue.
Before contacting someone from your network to discuss an issue, identify whether you need specific technical advice or perspective and assistance to formulate your decision. Select the right person for your need and then be clear about your request. Your resource should not tell you what to do; the decision and its consequences are your responsibility.
Your network of professional colleagues should provide you a “real world” perspective on issues. You must be able to trust them and have confidence in their honesty and integrity. Choose them wisely and treat them well.
The Internet offers a conduit to unlimited information and data. Technology leaps from one version to the next at incredible speed, access devices become smaller and more mobile with each new roll out, and wireless connectivity is almost ubiquitous. Thus, the incident commander on scene can hold a world of information in the palm of their hand.
Whereas libraries were once the primary repositories of information, today the Internet is the media of choice for accessing information and data.
The Internet offers far more than words on a page. Streaming audio/video can bring anyone firsthand accounts and permit you to see and hear the experiences of others from around the world. Our traditional classrooms are changing as training and educational systems steadily migrate to the online environment. Blogs, online forums, e-mail, instant messaging and podcasts all offer streams of current information and resources. Plus, the “Internet resource library” is open and accessible 24/7.
If you’re already connected to the Web, you likely recognize the power of this resource. Web search engines such as Google, Blackle, Yahoo and Ask.com can help you find anything on the Web. They minimize the time you spend searching for information while narrowing the amount of information consulted. Learning to use a search engine on the Web is well worth the time it takes to develop the skill.
If you’re not yet plugged into this amazing resource, the time to start is now. If you need help, the best person to ask is someone younger than you. You don’t have to learn it all at once or even expect to master it. The Web is just too valuable a resource to overlook or dismiss.
Scan through the Resource Guide in this issue of FireRescue, and you’ll find pages of information resources available nationally or in your state. Virtually all of these resources are Web-accessible, providing assistance at the click of your mouse.
Dozens of fire and EMS Web sites offer relevant and helpful information. Those Web sites may often serve as a launch point in your quest for information or assistance. And if you’re not able to find what you’re looking for, fire up that search engine and explore.
“A library?” you say. “But I thought you just characterized libraries as old-fashioned.” Although the Web is an amazing and powerful resource, I also encourage you to create your own collection of books that inspire, challenge and “speak” to you. Do not limit yourself to fire service texts or even to management texts. Sample and explore multiple authors across diverse subjects.
Although today’s instant information stream offers great value, we also have a human need to slow down our thinking for a moment or two. Investing time to ponder or muse over ideas and concepts is similar to marinating food or brewing tea. The process enhances the final product. Reading creates the environment and the opportunity for this process to occur.
A well-written book reads like a conversation with the author. As you read it (or listen to a CD recording), you begin to form a relationship that broadens your understanding, shapes your thinking and informs your decisions. Thoughts and concepts will resonate with you and help you organize your mind and work. Not all books you pick up will rise to this level of value. You will usually know by reading the introduction and first chapter whether the book belongs in your library. For those that don’t, you can set aside or pass along.
The books you choose to read and keep at hand offer a quiet but rich source of information, perspective and understanding. When you find a valuable book, be sure to share it with someone in your network. If that person reads it, take the time to discuss it and learn what each of you discovered within its pages. You may land on a common point or you may discover that you missed something during your reading.
Effective leaders recognize that they cannot accomplish all their professional objectives without tapping into a wealth of resources. Our world is so dynamic that mastering all the necessary facts, data and information isn’t just overwhelming—it’s impossible.
But with some thought and organization, you can create an accessible resource guide that opens doors to the information, understanding and processes that fuel successful decisions and actions. You are responsible for developing your resource pool and keeping it relevant and vibrant. As you build and refine it, don’t forget to share it.
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