Know your Job... and your Role
I was recently reminded that I have only been in the fire service for 3 years. I wish it was from my own introspection, but it was brought to my attention after my senior firefighter gave me a kick under the table and a look that said, “tread lightly.” I had just finished grumbling about a new fireground tactic and our department’s promotional exam, and ended the conversation with the statement, “our department values obedience, not competence.”
I immediately knew why I made the bellyaching remark. Since my youth I have questioned authority, and even as an adult I typically value my own conclusions over others’. Knowing that about myself was a pivotal factor to why I joined the military and the fire service. My personality lacked structure, discipline and consistency, or in just one word: obedience. What I lacked in obedience was made up for in my competence. I am observant, adaptive, and comprehensive. However, my arrogance was revealed when I preached the phrase, ‘knowledge is power.’ I have since learned influence is power. Knowledge is a tool that can either be sharpened or dulled, but it, too, has limitations.
The juxtaposition is that obedience and competence can either be a disciplined skill that is practiced despite willingness; or they can be a God given attribute that requires no effort. I believe the differences lie in the opposites: disobedience and incompetence. Imagine; a parent is far more likely to get upset with their child if they’re disobedient. The child is aware of the parameters and deliberately acts outside of them. Incompetence can either be derived from being oblivious or simple-minded, which aren’t deliberate acts.
Believer or not the Bible can teach any man about the human condition. "Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord." (Col 3:22) “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Col 4:1)
Obviously, we are at a time that’s far removed from the slavery Paul witnessed. However, it is easy to compare to the work environment, especially a paramilitary organization that has a hierarchical structure. Competence alone does not guarantee advancement, discipline and obedience to the organization’s tradition must be practiced. Contextually, Paul says that people who are lower in the hierarchy should know their role; and they should practice their craft with diligence and integrity knowing that their work strengthens their soul, and doesn’t just serve the beneficiary. In the same paragraph, Paul tells leaders of men to know their role, which is to provide their subordinates an opportunity to succeed. In doing so that should remind that leader they’re just a link within a chain of command, and there are people who have more wisdom.
Within the ranks of the military or the dinner table of a fire house, an individual’s position matters. There is the objective position: rank, and there is the subjective position: respect. Each is earned but by different methods. There is a process and it must be respected.
Again, I have only been in the fire service for 3 years. I am near the bottom in regards to our organization’s seniority but I have experience that no other man in my department has. I hope I’ve earned the respect and trust in order for my voice to be heard during discussions about tactics and policies. That being said, my job title is Firefighter. I do not make command decisions nor implement policies. I protect life and property. I can train my mind and body to be prepared for imagined scenarios, yet I’m oblivious to what I don’t know. That is why I need leadership with experience that hopefully knows their job and their role.
My requisition is for us to practice obedience in our roles and competence in our jobs. I’d defend that most people know their job. However, I think most of us fail to know our role. In either position you must respectfully listen, question and respond, then keep the other accountable and trust decisions. The relationship between the two is give-and-take and will grow if respect and trust are seen as priorities. There’s countless literature out there that can help guide and inspire, but words don’t manifest results -- actions do.