This article is the third in a series regarding the top three complaints about battalion chiefs (BC) that I hear when I travel to and teach at different fire departments around the country. Previously, I wrote about a failure to listen and an authoritarian approach using veiled threats. This week I am addressing technical and tactical incompetence.
The good and the bad
During my career, I worked for and served alongside both good and bad battalion chiefs. As a point of clarification, the title battalion chief encompasses assistant chief and section chief used in military firefighting during my time in the service.
The good BCs are technically and tactically proficient. They know what to do and how to get the job done. They know their strengths and their limitations, and they are not afraid to admit weakness. The strong BCs seek improvement, and they have an impressive command presence.
The bad BCs are the opposite of everything listed above. En route to an emergency and on scene you hear the lack of confidence, and sometimes fear, in their voice on the radio. Their weakness is covered in bravado, a heavy-handed approach, or they display timid behavior. The term command presence is as foreign to them as speaking Romanian.
Why is there technical and tactical incompetence?
I have had interesting conversations with firefighters and company officers who complain about their BC, and with good BCs who know some of their peers are incompetent. Why does this happen?
- One reason is the Peter Principle, defined by Dictionary.com as, “any of several ‘satirical laws’ concerning organizational structure, especially one that holds that people tend to be promoted until they reach their level of incompetence.”1
There are individuals who perform well as a company officer, but that does not mean they will be a good BC. Also, there are mediocre company officers that should have NEVER been promoted to BC. Take the time to study military history and you will see both scenarios played out over time.
- Then we have the political appointee, the favored individual, or the one who constantly has their lips attached to the chiefs rear-end. Reasons that are firmly denied by fire chiefs and Human Resource departments but seen by others in the organization.
- There isn’t anyone else left. Why?
- The department is so young that the pool of qualified individuals is shallow and consequently, people are thrust into a position that they are not yet ready for.
- Good company officers fail to realize the positive impact they could make in the department.
- Company officers who fear being passed over for promotion and they allow that fear to anchor them in place.
Overcoming the problem
After spending fifteen-years as a BC, I have the command and leadership background, experience, and resources to provide meaningful and relevant training to equip you to become a battalion chief that is a respected leader. But I cannot do that through mental telepathy. You must make the decision to improve yourself. You must act and not wait for your department to automatically do it for you. What is holding you back?