August 2021 Leadership Message From the ISFSI President: Pete Van Dorpe

Greetings Sister and Brothers:

Boy oh boy does it ever know how to rain in West Virginia! I picked up from FDIC a week ago Thursday and headed further east for a UL-FSRI Board meeting and then some R&R in “Almost Heaven.” We are camped out near New River Gorge National Park, and this truly is some of our nations most beautiful country, but when the skies let loose...let’s just say this is when a motorhome shows it value! But I digress. You didn’t open this to read about my camping misadventures. I did just mention FDIC, so let’s start there.

FDIC 2021 “Summer School” was an unqualified success. Kudos to Clarion, Fire Engineering, Bobby Halton and his team, and the multitude of people it takes to pull an event like that off, especially in these...(nope, I’m not going to say it), under the difficulties presented by the pandemic.  Attendance was, of course, less than normal but it was much more than I expected, and the class selection and schedule of events met and even exceeded expectations. Once again, ISFSI members were among those at the forefront of the event, with our own Larry Conley keynoting on Thursday and the George D. Post Award going to member Pat Kenny. Both members did the Society proud, as they always do. If you weren’t able to attend, be sure to view their remarks: &

Leigh, Jamie, and Emily knocked one out of the park again with social media updates that not only helped our members meet and socialize but also accomplished some recruiting. In addition, each member presenting at FDIC received a “swag bag” with membership applications, etc. and a Golden Ticket that gives the recipient a free one-year membership in the Society. These were distributed by the instructors at their discretion. Great ideas that paid immediate dividends! (See Leigh’s message below). VP Seth Barker met with the NAFTD and helped further our relationship with them. I will be attending their annual meeting in September as well. I have great hopes for the future of our organizations working together. Leigh and Board members present were busy marketing our new Associate Memberships to appropriate vendors and organizations. We all did what we NEED to do at FDIC, i.e reconnect with our brothers and sisters and reconnect with the passion that drives us as public servants and servants to our fellow firefighters. Thanks to all who could be there this summer! We truly missed those who could not make it and look forward to seeing you in April.

In my July missive I related to you my experience working for and with Col. Royal Mortenson and shared with you his “12 Tenets” for leaders and warned you that there would be more. Below is the “more”. As I mentioned previously, the Colonel does not pretend to be able to boil leadership down into some down and dirty acronyms. Leadership is hard work that requires persistent effort and renewed commitment on a regular basis. His tenets and principles are guideposts to help you stay focused along your journey. The difficult, grueling work of leadership is up to you.

(I did my best to capture these during a presentation. All errors and omissions are mine)

13 Executive Leadership Principles: “Large organization” needs to be broadly defined – if people are going to make decisions in your absence, and or where and when you cannot have direct influence over them, you are leading a large organization. So, how do you influence behavior when you are not present?

At some point in your career, you are put in a leadership position because someone assumes you know WTF you are doing. 

  • Don’t forget the 12 tenets!!!
  • Have an organizational vision of success. If you don’t, someone else will. Strategic? - If the things you put in place are done 4 chiefs later, you were a strategic, visionary leader. The things you put in place should not bear fruit during your tenure. Also, If Jethro can’t understand it, it probably won’t work.
  • Manage your time – if you don’t, someone else will. Use your admins to help you do this.
  • Get out of the office every day – MBWA – management by walking around - talk to and touch the people who toil in the trenches every day. Bishop leadership = people pay closer attention to and remember what the “bishop” says and does when he comes to visit. The congregation will always talk about the “day the bishop came”...Meaning, when it comes from you, it has more import. Use this wisely.
  • Figure out your organizational center of gravity – the element or elements that give the organization the ability to carry out its main effort. The bike tire example: Will the bike work with a flat tire, yes – damaged rim, yes – cut a few spokes, yes…cut the axle in half, NO. Always think of this in terms of your people. What is essential? Pay attention to that, don’t get excited over a dented rim or a couple of cut spokes.
  • Clearly articulate at every opportunity what the “main effort” is and allocate your resources to enable success. Don’t have more than 3-5 priorities. People have to know your priorities, don’t make them guess. You hunt the rhinoceros; your people hunt the small game. 
  • Look, listen and learn. Know your organization before you begin making changes. Don’t change for changes sake. You think you’re being an agent of change; they think you’re an angel of death.
  • If you are issuing orders, you are likely failing. Get them to believe it’s their idea, focus on getting buy in to your vison – build consensus. 
  • Executive leadership is about three things: environment, environment, environment. Your job is about creating an environment where others feel valued and productive. “You really don’t do anything but talk to people”. It’s not your job to do “things”. It’s your job to discover what really needs doing and help others get that stuff done.
  • Be consistent in attitude, demeanor, and focus. Nothing destroys morale like trying to guess which boss showed up today. 
  • Communicate (as the boss, this means STFU and listen!) If people aren’t coming to you with their problems, you have ceased to be seen as their leader. You want people to tell you when the emperor has no clothes.
  • Be transparent in your leadership and decision-making style. People should never be surprised. Make as many decisions in an open forum as possible. This is the best way for people to understand your intent. This helps ensure that when you make a bad decision, people give you credit for “making a tough call”.
  • It’s never about you – but you knew that!
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