Wildland Fire Leadership is blog where students of fire and leadership come together to discuss, debate and exchange leadership development concepts, experience, and thoughts with an intent to promote cultural change in the workforce and strengthen the wildland fire service and the communities they serve.
“It’s gonna be a pissa’ out there.” As in rain, Mississippi grab-the-sandbags, rain. Thanks to the challenge thrown out at the Introductory dinner last night, we were all invited to attend a 5am run. Not required, nope, but “a leader is always being watched” we’re told. Well with those semantics you either get pissed on and catch pneumonia or you feel like a slouch. And my over-engineered alarm clock, a throwback from the 90’s, failed. First impressions, anybody?
The crew was broken into groups, each with an OMNA SME (Subject Matter Expert) and a fire management SME. The purpose of having both should be obvious. We’re studying a military battle for leadership qualities for fire. The OMNA SME directs from stand to stand, discussing key decision points, covering the history and military tactics and strategies. The fire SME tries to bring it home and facilitate discussions on how we adopt particular principles and traits.
These OMNA folks are top notch. The guy in my group was a Machine Gunner, and had a full bandolier of enthusiasm and energy. He was in his mid 60’s but lacked any sense of disenfranchisement, and wasn’t jaded the way we sometimes find older people who’ve been with an organization for their entire career to be. Here he was, hiking all over the battlefield in a pissa’, going ten thousand miles an hour about the hornet’s nest, describing how many cannon were in a battery, how many horses are needed to supply one, how many rounds per minute were bombarding the federal troops on sunken road; he had chosen a career with the United States Marine Core some 40 years ago, and didn’t reveal a single trace of wavering commitment.
It was a pissa’ out there
The hardest part about this is overcoming self importance and the uniqueness of what we do. Certainly digging line around a fire is different than shooting long ass musket rifles and cannons at people? But as the day progressed I developed a way of thinking. I was learning how to learn. What wasn’t working was trying to visualize the Confederates or the Federal Army as the fire, or using some of the geographical points of significance as they related to the Battle of Shiloh, and translating that to theoretical fire locations. Instead, I keyed in on the decision making processes, the similarities. People are pissed off, hungry, disorganized, under stress; you have some good leaders, some inept, some political appointees and the golden child; there’s the disconnect from management or command to the boots on the ground; there’s the prioritization of resources, the ever-present time wedge getting smaller by the minute, the necessity to adapt plans to fit the people rather than fitting people to the right plan; command is coming from the top, and control from the bottom.
We had been challenged on day one to have a tidbit to share with everybody. I kept asking people what their nugget was going to be, hoping it would materialize something for myself. By the time our integration catfish dinner came around, I knew what I’d say. It involved the hornets nest, the federal troops there, who kept the Confederates occupied and distracted for quite some time. This allowed the Federal troops time to retreat and reorganize. My group leader, using his Einstein-like ammunition and ballistic calculations, presumed there to be something like 15,000 rounds of lead flying through the air at the hornets nest.
How and why would a group of people take this assignment, hold their ground until most were dead, until the only option left is death or surrender? They understand the importance of their mission, how what they were doing played into the bigger picture: they knew buying time and being the stubborn bunch holding the advantageous ground was good for business, good for the federals, and was part of their leaders intent. That’s it. Being a good leader, Grant knew people needed to understand and believe they were part of winning ideas – that if they were empowered to be critical parts, they would in turn create critical successes.
Reprinted with permission from the author. View the original on the Student of Fire blog. All thoughts are that of the author.
One good question can give rise to several layers of answers, can inspire decades-long searches for solutions, can generate whole new fields of inquiry, and can prompt changes in entrenched thinking. Answers, on the other hand, often end the process. - Stuart Firestein
This is of course, a take off on the popular commercial in which “the most interesting man in the world” advises us to “Stay thirsty, my friends!” which associates drinking Dos Equis beer with a life of romance and adventure.
I recently read The Coaching Habit, in which the author Michael Stanier also used that imperative to good effect, concluding his book with “Stay Curious, my friends!” I like it! But “fascinated” is a step beyond curious. Curious is good, but it is a neutral emotion. “Fascination” has some magic in it….
To be fascinated, intrigued, full of wonder, amazed, enthused, awe-inspired – is so much different, so much better than being annoyed, angry, indignant, indifferent, or simply unemotionally focused on whatever one is doing.
Computers, robots, automatons can’t be fascinated. To be fascinated is to be alive and human. Fascination implies a sparkle, a level of amazement, perhaps a wee taste of joy – an appreciation of the wonder, mystery – even beauty – in whatever we are observing or considering. Fascination has an aesthetic quality to it.
It is often difficult to see the wonder, mystery, beauty in unpleasant surprises, when our natural inclination is to respond with anger and annoyance, or disappointment, or sadness. But to step back and say – “Yeah, that really pisses me off, or “that is disgusting,” or ….”that is terrible, but isn’t it fascinating how….” puts a little different spin on the issue. It demands that we seek to understand – even appreciate – the issue from a broader perspective.
My good friend Rick Rochelle, with whom I have led numerous NOLS courses seems to have this as a default position when confronted with things that aggravate me and others. He often begins a sentence with, “Isn’t it fascinating how…” then pick your point of aggravation: Trumps undisciplined use of twitter, how the left hates Trump with the same ferocity that the right hated Obama, how people who so readily break promises are so annoyed when others break commitments. Whatever. Obviously, these things can annoy and infuriate many of us. But….isn’t it fascinating?
I have read Zorba the Greek a number of times – and the character of Zorba continues to inspires me. In the novel the narrator describes the 65 year old Zorba as:
Like the child, he sees everything for the first time. He is forever astonished and wonders why and wherefore. Everything seems miraculous to him, and each morning when he opens his eyes, he sees trees, sea, stones and birds and is amazed.
My friend retired SEAL Master Chief Mags was recently advising young men preparing to enter SEAL training, on how to deal with the pain, intimidation and exhaustion they knew were coming. He finished by advising them to occasionally change their view of what they were experiencing, and ask themselves: “Isn’t this fascinating what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and what I’m going through?! Isn’t it fascinating how they make Navy SEALs?”
Of course, my wife Mary Anne, regularly pulls my chain on this, especially when she’s riled up. When the city of Tijuana dumps a 150 million gallons of raw sewage into the ocean, just up-current from where we live in Imperial Beach, she throws “fascination” back in my face with, “I do NOT find this f*cking “FASCINATING!”
And then I rile her up even more, when I smile and respond, “Isn’t it fascinating how you continue to get upset by this?”
(Isn’t it fascinating how married people needle each other?!)
Tijuana sewage dumps, school shootings, ISIS beheadings, Korean nuclear posturing, Syrian atrocities are indeed difficult and serious problems, the resolving of which are long term challenges. And while these can be upsetting, frustrating, and in some cases tragic, they are also engaging, worthy of our political involvement and concern – and interesting. Without forgetting the moral and human dimensions associated with these challenges, it’s one more step beyond interesting to see the origins of these problems, their many dimensions, their complexity, as “fascinating.”
Fascination CAN co-exist with frustration, sadness, disappointment, and a focused sense of purpose. But it CAN NOT co-exist with livid anger, righteous indignation, moral outrage. Not much else can either.
In response to whether “fascination” has any place in the worst of circumstances, I refer to Viktor Frankl’s Mans Search for Meaning. He (or his translators) didn’t use the word “fascination,” but I believe that what he described as an ability to detach oneself from the horror, to find a place of wonder and spiritual detachment, is akin.
There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
It is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.
The way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.
Most of us will never need the emotional discipline and spiritual resilience necessary to cope with anything approaching the horror of a concentration camp, but we will all have our difficult times. And when we do, the wisest of us will step back and not forget the miracles of this life, and those miracles includes suffering, as well as joy.
When I am able to make a minor adjustment to my perspective, and appreciate what I am experiencing as on some level “fascinating,” it adds a bit of a sparkle to my day. If there is beauty to be seen, I am better able to see it; if there is disappointment or pain, it hurts a little less. A smile sneaks onto my face, and the world seems a little bit brighter, just a little more…. fascinating.
I may not be the most interesting man in the world, but I challenge myself, and I challenge you to Stay fascinated, my friends!
Bob Schoultz (retired Navy Seal commander, Adjunct Professor for Masters of Science in Global Leadership program at the University of San Diego, and certified NOLS instructor for L-380) is a regular WFLDP blog contributor. Check out this and other articles on Bob's blog, "Bob Schoultz's Corner."
"Every answer given on principle of experience begets a fresh question." - Immanuel Kant
As an educator, I love questions. I love seeking knowledge. I question solid answers. I question those who seem to be dug so far into their convictions that they see only their truth and are not open to experiencing another side or possible answer. I respect a person defending their position, but red flags go up for me when a person is so behind their beliefs that nothing else matters. When innovation is limited because we see only what we want to see.
While reading Annie Duke's new book Thinking In Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts, I came upon the work of Dr. Stuart Firestein, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University. Dr. Firestein shares his perspective that knowledge really propagates more questions.
When we pursue a situation from, as Dr. Firestein says, "what you can ask about it" instead of "how much you know about it," you open up a whole new world for consideration. You are now using your knowledge in pursuit of more knowledge.
This is the same approach that I use to manage the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program social media platforms. I share knowledge and let our followers provide perspectives. I am not soliciting a specific answer nor do I subscribe to every response received. However, I read as many comments as I can and occasionally ask questions or pose challenges to encourage a growth mindset. I believe that a growth mindset enhances our self-development.
Which of the following do you believe:
Knowledge → Facts
Knowledge → Questions
Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
Watch Stuart Firestein's TedTalk "The Pursuit of Ignorance."
Stuart Firestein: The pursuit of ignorance - YouTube
Want to dig even further into Dr. Firestein's work, read his book Ignorance: How It Drives Science.