The classic movie, “Backdraft,” offers our profession countless one-liners. Perhaps the most memorable of these is captured in a very tense moment when Kurt Russell’s character, Stephen McCaffrey, refuses to let go of John “Axe” Adcox, who is played by Scott Glenn, saying, “You go. , we are going there.” This moment captures virtue and a fundamental construct of the fire service, that of trust.
Leadership and trust are fundamental elements that represent the best versions of fire service culture. The heartbreaking “You go, we go” moment can be applied again and again to leadership and trust in fire service organizations. Having the ability to build unbreakable trust and rapport with members is second to none. Leadership can only occur in a climate of mutual and coordinated action, based on common values and a common vision. The task of the leader is to unite the group in a familiar and harmonious environment in which everyone is free to trust the goals, actions and intentions of the organization.
Building a culture of trust
Building balanced and collaborative firefighting teams is indeed a leadership task. It is also a task to teach a common goal and principles of organization. It is a process of instilling and encouraging trust. However, the list of organizations that are among those with healthy cultures is unfortunately not that long. Leadership is not dynamic unless there is a compatible culture, a shared vision, and a set of shared organizational values. Leadership requires leaders to go beyond their personality and technical skills to create a culture that fosters a distinct vision and set of values.
Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of trust. At its most basic level, trust is defined as a party’s willingness to be exposed to the actions of another person or group. It is a belief that two parties will act in a mutually beneficial way. For these reasons, effective communication, teamwork, employee engagement, and productivity all require trust. It all comes together to create better working relationships and a more positive service culture.
Because trusting relationships are inherently vulnerable, the premise that trust must be earned is widely accepted. Recognizing that trust is a dynamic concept, it is important to understand the different types of trust.
Types of trust
There is a growing body of research related to trust in the workplace, and patterns have emerged that help us understand how it is built and maintained. A role model worth mentioning is that of Michelle and Dennis Reina. Their model describes three essential components: ability confidence, personality confidence, and communication confidence. Ability confidence is a type of skill confidence that develops when people have confidence in an individual’s perceived level of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Character confidence is rooted in the belief that people will do what they say they will do and can be relied upon. Communication trust is defined as the willingness to share information, tell the truth, admit mistakes and keep secrets. Understanding the different types of trust is essential, but it is also crucial to understand the different forces that hinder the development of trust.
Forces that hinder
To build trust within a fire service organization, those in leadership positions must undertake a difficult and risky task. They must recognize and remove potential barriers to harmony and trust if they and the organization are to succeed. The unshakeable forces within an organization that we have to deal with focus on individual and organizational constructs that present potential obstacles. Although definitive solutions are not readily available, the underlying message is that recognizing challenges and minimizing their effects through the leader’s creativity and skill inherently increases confidence and, therefore, enables leaders to succeed.
Members of the organization communicate information about their feelings, attitudes, problems, and ideas whenever they interact with others. That said, it can be dangerous to communicate on so many levels. For better or worse, according to Andrew Van de Ven, organizational scientist and author of “Suggestions for Studying the Strategy Process: A Research Note,” we tend to accept information as accurate or useful to the extent that the sender is perceived as honest or trustworthy. The reverse is also true: misleading or misleading communications can erode trust. It’s played out around the kitchen table in every fire station.
According to Samuel Culbert and John McDonough, who are the authors of “Radical Management: Power Politics and The Pursuit of Trust”, other human tendencies related to communication hinder trust.
Consider the following example: People don’t like subjectivity, because it’s hard to control. However, much of what we say in life is subjective and not fully backed up by objective evidence. Administrators face ongoing challenges with confidence. Without timely or appropriate information sharing, trust can be compromised. Moreover, the same event can be interpreted in different ways by different people.
Perspective changes everything, but it does not change the facts. Leadership should not make the mistake of assuming that others in the organization see the world the same way they do or that those others will see the world differently if leaders point it out to them.
To varying degrees, people desire personal agency. When leaders properly allocate and use opportunities to empower others, they are able to harness a powerful tool that can help an organizational culture build or maintain trust. However, some leaders (and followers) do not want to share their power. Gerald Griffin, who is the author of Machiavelli on Management: Playing and Winning the Corporate Power Game, argues that when leaders or followers disproportionately focus power on themselves, a barrier to trust can be created. . Abuse of power undermines relationships of trust.
Some people confuse trust with a simple belief in the goodness of others and the benevolent nature of the world. These people consider those who trust others to be less intelligent and more gullible than themselves. They believe that having confidence values lowers a person’s self-esteem or potential for success and makes them naïve or incapable. This mindset stifles a leader’s ability to succeed.
Trust is earned over time and is the result of a person’s life experiences. Those with a propensity to trust seem to have more experience with trustworthy people (parents, teachers, bosses and leaders, for example). Trust is a belief in the honesty of a communication, interaction, or relationship rather than its accuracy. When we have a high level of trust in a person, we generally see them as reliable and trustworthy. Although trust is risky, so is leadership. Viewed as an opportunity to be vulnerable, leaders must understand and mitigate the risk of trusting others in the organization if they are to succeed.
Although not always beneficial, people have selfish motives. It’s healthy and normal, but it needs to be recognized and understood. Members of an organization compete with others in social relationships, including work relationships, to achieve personal goals. This competition creates win-lose situations by focusing on individual action rather than group action, which can make trusting relationships difficult. Trust and self-interest are opposites, because the values that support high trust are not the same as those that support self-interest.
The second challenge to trust is created by organizational strengths. The actions of people in positions of authority are critical to building or destroying a culture of trust, as their cumulative actions shape the internal climate of the organization in many ways. Leaders can use their power to promote and support a culture that values high levels of trust. In other cases, they use it to create a suspicious atmosphere, whether they like it or not.
The level of authority that is instilled in an organization’s activity versus the level of self-direction that is allowed in the leader-follower relationship appears to be key to the type of culture developed. The role of leadership in an increasingly complex world should be to structure institutional authority in ways that promote individual growth and group success.
Fire service values are influenced by societal values, reflecting a tendency to deconstruct traditional values and morals. Because trust is tied to these and similar values, the decline of core values, such as honesty, integrity, reliability, and commitment, can render a management team’s efforts to create a culture of trust much more difficult. Warren Gamaliel Bennis, author of “An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change,” believed that if leaders don’t confront this ethical and moral deficit, organizations will end up in shambles.
Understanding some of the barriers to fire service organizations and individual success can be beneficial. They are unique to individuals or even departments and may have negative or unintended consequences in one organization or part of the country, but not in another. Because they reduce collective or individual success, these unintended effects could be called pathological. In addition to individual or organizational strengths that may impede the development of trust, there are other more general institutional and human barriers to a leader’s ability to inspire trust in an organization. These can include traditionalism, uncontrolled growth, office politics, cynical behavior, and employee burnout. Although the effects and presence of these barriers differ by organization, their identification and description seem to be present in all groups to one degree or another.
Trust is fundamental
Many people mistakenly define leadership as a function of an individual’s charisma, a set of behaviors and skills, or a set of optional approaches and contingencies. These ideas are not supported by experience. On the other hand, leadership is a collaborative relationship between leaders and their followers. This occurs in situations (organizational cultures) in which the leader and the led are sufficiently united in their values and trust each other to engage in joint activity. Trust is really more than a construct. It’s actually the foundation of the fire department.