Are You Bridging or Creating Gaps With People

Do you believe a generation gap exists in our society? Do you complain that the younger generation does not listen, or they do not care? As a leader entrusted with the care of others, are you bridging or creating generation gaps?

The authoritative battalion chief

Periodically, I met with another battalion chief from a neighboring department to discuss how our crews cooperated, how we could train together, and compare notes about our respective organizations.

Inevitably he complained about the young people who worked for him and how he did not understand them. He said they constantly asked questions which he viewed as bucking his authority.

At first, I attempted to explore his sense of frustration and asked if the younger members of his organization were merely trying to learn more about their department, gain a greater understanding of expectations, or learn from a senior member. He dismissed that idea and said it was clear to him they were challenging authority.

After a year of having the same conversation and hearing his same answers, I sat there drinking coffee, staring at him, and attempting to steer the conversation in another direction. Sometimes that approach worked and sometimes it did not.

The transformational fire chief

In comparison, I recently had lunch with a retired fire chief I used to work for. Both of us have the same philosophy towards leadership and development of other people. We both realize and understand that developing knowledge, skills, and abilities in people requires time, effort, and making a connection with them.

It requires listening to what is asked and it also requires driving a stake into our egos. In other words, every time a question is asked, it does not mean insubordination. In my experiences, I have found that the questions are generally out of curiosity rather than stirring the pot.

The bridge

The photo shows the bridge spanning the York River, connecting Yorktown, Virginia with Gloucester Point, Virginia. My friend the battalion chief was not interested in building bridges or spanning the gap with the younger people who worked for him. He was more worried about defending his position and taking an authoritative stance with his subordinates.

Yes, there are times when transactional leadership is necessary. However, constantly living in that mode is destructive. How about you? Are you a transactional leader who demands obedience from subordinates? Or are you a transformational leader who connects with subordinates developing their character and skill levels?

Fire Officer Leadership Academy