Blog by Alan Brunacini
Retired Phoenix Fire Chief and Author of “Functional Boss Behaviors”

I’ve studied bosses, and I’ve noticed that the best predictor of behavior in an organization is to look at the way the boss behaves. Often times, however, we lose sight of the fact that the relationships between bosses and workers have a direct impact on the level of service an organization provides.

If you ask anyone who has been a boss in the fire service, they’ll probably tell you a lot of stories about the road rash they experienced trying to get it right.

But I’d be willing to bet a lot of them would say, “I wish someone had told me this.”

After 50 years in the industry, making observations and learning by experience, I’ve put together some notes on what it takes to be a boss in the fire service. These notes, which I turned into my Functional Boss Behaviors book, which is available as a course through TargetSolutions, outline a set of 10 behaviors that effectively support and assist a worker in delivering standard service and added value:

1. Workers Must Take Good Care of Customers: A great deal of our focus is on customers. These are the people who receive services from us. When we are connected to the customer, we should deliver the best possible service to the customer.

2. Bosses Must Take Good Care of Workers: The relationships inside the organization are the launching pad for how we deliver services. The behavior of the boss is the most powerful thing in our everyday environment. If bosses don’t take care of workers, how can we expect the workers to take care of Mrs. Smith?

3. Build Trust or Go Home: Trust is a basic part of any relationship and is what connects the boss to the worker and to Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith trusts us because we respond quickly, solve her problem, and we’re nice. The workers trust Boss Smith because he responds quickly, solves the problem, and has a supportive relationship with them. Bosses must foster, develop, and then refine the trust relationship inside the system in order to provide the best service outside the organization.

4. Sweat the Big Stuff: The first priority for every boss is that “everyone goes home.” The routine stuff we do is important and ensures we are ready for the tough stuff; however, the boss’s focus should be on the critical stuff that allows us to deliver service and survive that service.

5. Set the Workers Free: When we become bosses, we gain authority and power that we use to create order, deliver adequate service, and take care of the workers. One of the best things a boss can do with that authority is to empower workers to be independent and self-directed.

6. Play Your Position: Organizations essentially consist of three levels strategic, tactical and task. For the organization to be effective, each level must be independently functional and capable, AND they must be interconnected. The challenge is to knit these three levels together in a way that connects the levels to each other, but points the organization toward the customer.

7. Keep Fixin’ the System: We are always operating within a model of continuous improvement. We follow procedures to deliver service and then constantly critique what worked and what went wrong. That model is necessarily boss driven. Bosses must continually look at SOPs, training, and, most importantly, themselves to improve organizational performance.

8. Create “Loyal Disobedience/Insubordination”: The firefighters the workers have the best set of perceptions, experiences, and connections to Mrs. Smith, and often they have ideas about how to improve service. A willingness to come forward with suggestions and bad news is a mature form of organizational commitment and respect. A good boss is accessible and will help solve the problem.

9. All You Got Is All You Get (Anatomy & Physiology): Every boss has different strengths and weaknesses. A boss’s personal effectiveness is dependent on how the boss uses his very personal skills and capabilities. Small improvements can produce big time results in the boss-worker relationship.

10. Don’t Do Dumb Stuff: This is pretty straight forward, but I bet we could talk all day about the dumb stuff we’ve done or seen others do. Workers can easily identify anything the boss does that is self-serving or stupid, which can be really destructive.

I’ve never figured out how to change somebody’s attitude, but I’ve noticed if you can change someone’s behavior, their attitude will change over time. And I don’t think you do that with leadership. You do that with an online, present, conscious, engaged boss.

About the Author
Retired Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini is one of the preeminent authors and pioneers of the fire service industry. Chief Brunacini is a 1960 graduate of the Fire Protection Technology program at Oklahoma State University and he earned a degree in political science from Arizona State University in 1970. He graduated from the Urban Executives Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973 and received a Master of Public Administration degree from Arizona State in 1975.