As I sat outside the door I could feel the heat coming from the fire inside. We were told the house was vacant, but in a house fire you can never be sure. The department was short-staffed on this gloomy Sunday morning when the alarm went off. There wasn’t a Company Commander in the station that day. Instead of a commander, the most senior firefighter rode up, meaning in charge. The senior firefighter had just two days of seniority on me. He also had problems in training grasping the skills required for the job.
As we made entry into the house, I had the nozzle and my senior firefighter was my backup. The signs pointed to the fire being in the basement so we made entry into the house and headed down the stairs. In the basement, the ceiling had heavy fire involved. The entire structure was weakening by the second and could collapse if a quick attack wasn’t made.
As I turned the corner I started placing my attack stream into the heaviest pocket of the fire. I needed to move further into the basement to be effective but my hose got caught on the stairs. When I turned around, my “leader” was standing straight up taking in the sight of the fire. The fire had him distracted, even saying it was pretty. In this moment where he was the leader, he experienced his first real life fire. It became evident that he lacked the skills and experience to be effective as a firefighter.
The reason we size people up is often due to life experiences. We have trained ourselves to look for potential problems in a manner of self-preservation. In some situations, it can be life or death.
Seeing my “leader” lacking the skills to do the job left me with little chance of trusting him again. If leadership is about influence and influence was about trust, I had no faith in his skills to influence me. The chances of me trusting him again were gone. Credibility as a leader requires a solid platform of trust.
The definition of skill is the ability to do something well. Leaders don’t have to be experts in every field. We don’t expect that a CEO be an engineer and a CPA, but we expect them to have knowledge of R&D and finance. Having general skills and knowledge tend to lead to trust with your team.