And Now a Word From The Sponsor

Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in Ohio, New York and beyond; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right? Oh and one more thing:

The views expressed on this site are entirely my own. They do not reflect in anyway the views or positions of my employer (s) and should not taken as official policy of ANY organization with which I am associated. Reading or sharing any post from this site shall be taken as an indication that you have read this disclaimer and understand it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Leadership and Management: what no one has the courage to tell you

The field of leadership and management studies is marked by never ending fads, pleasantly attired gurus, and far too little real life insight from those who have tried, failed, and failed again to bring about serious change in their organizations.  All of the formulas, apps, and charts are of little use if you do not have an honest idea of what to expect when you actually try to put a new idea and vision into effect in the workplace that is your own.  They are even less useful when you encounter the type of resistance that can and does occur from some of the most dysfunctional of organizations. 

This is not meant to diminish the wonderful work done by so many in the field. The theories and concepts of people like Townsend, Drucker, Kotter, and so many others has been of foundational importance in even my own career.  But what those brilliant minds often do not prepare you for is the reality of the system in which you will attempt to bring to fruition the lessons you learned from the highlighted and dog-eared pages that line your bookshelves.   

First, you will never work in a vacuum. Where you are or where you go will have a history that long pre-dates you.  No matter how troubled that history may be—no matter how glaring you may see the current or future potholes or cliffs that threaten the future—the past will be stronger for many of those you attempt to lead or persuade.   Particularly if you are in an entrenched organization, with long standing mindsets, strongly held beliefs and its own way of doing things—there is a transition phase that must be managed well if you are to succeed.  That is old news for the readers of Leadership Books.  But what is new is just how basic that first phase must be if you are to succeed 

In essence, the implementation of progressive concepts about leading organizations requires a first step that most writers assume has already occurred—the believe that these ideas are valued—or at least valued by a group of people willing to listen to them with a partially open mind, or perhaps one open ear.  Most of those you will attempt to lead in these organizations do not possess a “Learner’s Mind” as the former interim senior minister at my church called it.  In fact, they have only a reactionary mind.  There are reasons for this—and those reasons are only one factor why many leadership and change management plans start far too distant down the Yellow Brick Road.  Remember, Oz is nothing without the Tornado—the nasty neighbor—and the Black and White part.  If you forget the beginning steps—the danger is that those you are trying to lead may lose the whole reason for the journey.  And if people are willing to even look at the map, well it’s going to be a very short journey indeed.  

But how to manage that trip in the absence of a learner’s mind?  What if the group, or team, or company or organization that you have been tasked to lead hasn’t made it there yet?  What if they proudly attend the meetings of their local flat-earth society and have no interest in your concepts?  Albert Einstein himself would be dismissed by this band of “professionals”—would you not fall to the same fate, but probably faster?

It is my belief, that this is not a diminishing phenomenon, but rather a growing one.  Reflecting the polarization of many of our political and social systems—where the art of compromise, even of learning, has atrophied, is it no wonder that some of our institutions are suffering the same fate as people who should be willing to learn new ways, new ideas, and different processes, instead dig in their heels and refuse to grow. Like a plant that refuses water or food.

I know the answer from those in the private sector—fire them all!  Promote those that share the vision!  Introduce metrics to measure success and demand that the measures be met!   But what if the world in which you work isn’t the private sector?  What if you are in a sector that values, above all, intransigence masked as security and status quo, labeled as tenure or protection?  Maybe you have the ability to leave—find you way to Park Avenue and the towers that speak your new found language.  If so, good for you. 

But there are others, many others, who are responsible for companies, organizations, departments, or bureaus that live outside the natural rules, in lands with their own laws—to which reason, relativity, and the normal order of things just don’t apply.  As with all advanced life forms—they have a consciousness and a sense of being.  And they do not see growth—but only fear.  They see the changes to come and, much like a Pope hearing of Martin Luther—know only one way to react. 

These coming articles will discuss that reaction—and how you as a manager or leader must deal with it.  I realize clearly that management and leadership are quite different beasts.  But for these discussions, they are inherently related and co-dependent.  The talents required by both are the same. In organizations such as these, the management of change and the vision that leads it ultimately are useless if those doing the work or being led just refuse to move. 

How to get them to move?  In a world where reason fails to work, where statistics and logic are disarmed and rigidity and dissonance are notes in the national anthem—how can we hope to make things better?  That is what this series will discuss.  Sadly, there are no easy answers.  But for those who face this challenge answers must come. 

Too often, these groups are in the fields that are most important—government, public safety, and critical utility and transportation sectors.  In each of these institutions the need for better results—for improvement—to get more out of strapped budgets— is never ending.  Lacking the flexibility of the private sector, however, doing more with less becomes too often doing more with the same. The same old mindsets, the same old approaches, the same old biases. 

The leaders and managers of fire departments, police departments, 9-1-1 Centers, and other similar organizations are crying out for solutions as they face an ever changing environment with workforces that are sometimes unwilling to acknowledge the realities around them.  This spells disaster for that organization and, equally as important, those that the organization serves. 

There are better ways.  Let’s find them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

An Honored Deal- Addressing America's Veterans Crisis

Few problems facing this country speak about our priorities so clearly as the way we grate our veterans. First, we have asked them to complete more combat tours than should ever be imagined in war with questionable goals and foggy outcomes.  We leave them in those places for years and then fail to provide adequate physical and mental health services upon their return to civilian life.  Finally, our congress fails to pass legislation to address  the challenges faced by so many upon their separation from service-- from a lack of jobs to a VA that is obviously not doing the job it should be.  

The time has come for an "Honorable Deal.". This comprehensive approach to veterans services would address these issues and more through a common sense approach-- leveraging the best solutions from our past to meet the needs of the modern veteran and his/her family.

Part One:  Solve the Housing and Community Problem

Many of our military bases across the United States have vast tracts of underutilized land and space.  In one or two bases per state, utilize these spaces to construct 1,000 pre-fab homes for veterans.  Using modern pre-fab construction, these 400 square foot homes should cost no more than $10,000 to $15,000 per unit.  For families, a larger model, approximately 1,000 square feet would be constructed.  Each of the "transitional housing bases" would be able to support approximately 2,500 people.  In these areas, access would be permitted to outside community directly-- in other words, no gate between the community and the outside, however security would be maintained by base personnel.

These new communities would be constructed using  traditional urban design, meaning a "walk-able" community-- with a few stores at the center, open spaces, and playgrounds.  In addition, a medical center offering veteran's and family services would be constructed in the center of the community.  This facility would also offer mental health services and community meeting space as well as training and educational space for local community colleges, high-schools, tech-schools, and other entities to use.  This design would be standardized across the country, allowing even this facility, which could also be a re-use of existing/abandoned space, to be constructed inexpensively and efficiently. 

Of special consideration would be vacant "big-box" retail outlets in close proximity to the military bases where the housing would be located.  These types of buildings could easily hold all of the services to be offered and would remove a potential blight. 

Part Two: Solve the Jobs Problem

For those veterans moving onto the transitional housing locations, jobs could initially be provided on the base or in the local community government helping address critical infrastructure needs and general community maintenance.  In this case, approximately 50,000 jobs would be needed.  In cases where local governments do not have vacancies or the local military base can not support the work-- five year tax subsidies would be provided to local governments or private employers to hire veterans.  This would be on a temporary basis until the veteran has obtained necessary skills to find full employment (five years or less). In each of the areas where one of these facilities would be located, a local jobs survey would identify key unfilled or undefiled classes of jobs.  Vocational and Technical Training would be provided to meet the needs of that local community.  This training would be supported by a public/private partnership and be open to all local residents-- not just those who are veterans, however veterans would receive an allotment of available jobs and, where feasible, preferential hiring- especially where their skills sets meet the needs of local employers.

Part Three: Solve the Education and Training Problem

At the local community centers would be the opportunity to take classes and training leading to employment.  However, for those not living within the centers, there must be improved access to training for all veterans.  A National roll-out of a veterans and low-income training and hiring program would benefit both veterans and those with little access to essential skills training. As mentioned above, local employers would be surveyed to determine their needs for new employees.  This is a golden opportunity to fill the jobs American employers can't because of a lack of trained and qualified workers. 

Part Four:  Make any Success Sustainable 

Many would be concerned about creating a new government welfare program-- no matter how noble the cause or idea.  For this reason, the communities would have a graded tax structure to fund both the communities themselves and the services they provide.  The start-up costs and expenses for the first  three years would be funded by the federal government.  However, beginning with year three, residents of the communities would pay a 3% flat tax on income earned as a type of "local government residency fee"-- This would increase to 4% in year four and 5% in year five.  If anyone wishes to stay in the community beyond the five year period, they would have to pay into an additional Community Development Fund to help pay for community expansion infrastructure needs, etc.  A critical component of this effort would be keeping costs low-- reducing the need for car travel and including gardens and other sustainable elements to any community design.  The goal will be for families to be able to support themselves on one-income or with one partner working part-time instead of two full-time workers.  This will decrease costs for the family and improve family cohesiveness.

Next Steps:

This is my idea but it is not my problem.  It is OUR problem. If you have suggestions for how we could improve it, please feel free to comment or to share.  If you are a politician and want to do something with it-- that's even better.  But if you think its stupid or unworkable- fine-- what's your idea?  Whatever we do, t has to be sustainable and take into account the big picture.  Too often today, we can't even get little solutions for big problems-- who knows, maybe we an get a big solution for a big problem?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Some Free Consulting Work for Columbus Fire

As many of you know, I follow events in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio pretty closely,  especially in regards to their Fire/EMS service.  This is partly because I have many friends and family who live there and I care passionately that they get the best possible care in the event they need Fire or EMS services.  It is also because I know of no other city in the US where very simple changes in how Fire and EMS calls are dispatched could have a dramatically positive impact on response times and department effectiveness. 

The most unfortunate part of all is that I am very familiar with the computer system that they utilize to Dispatch (Intergraph) and a related product known as Deccan.  Neither of these tools are being used to their full potential.  I should say I do not think this is because anyone in Columbus is heartless or incompetent. They have some of the best fire and EMS personnel in the US who do great work everyday. 

However, what they lack, is a vision of Fire Service Communications as an integral tool to ensure effective outcomes for public safety. Fire Dispatching there has been seen by many as an ancillary function.  I have been told by one Columbus official that dispatching is about "just following the model" with no room for adjustment; modification or the creative thinking that marks a quality dispatching operation.  That is like saying your star quarterback should never change the play at the line of scrimmage or that you should just stick the direction of the compass, even when it leads you into the swamp. (Thank you Mr. Lincoln)

My experience in our profession has taught me something much different.  That Dispatchers are capable of amazing things when treated like professionals.  When given the skills and the training and the equipment and the authority to do their job, dispatchers can and do make miracles happen.  That is why I love this job and why I am so honored to work where I do-- with a group of people who can and do make that kind of impact every day.  The bitter irony, and another motivation for me regarding this topic, is that I was taught that way of thinking by Columbus Fire Dispatchers that served from the 50s to the 1980s.  They were my mentors and I would love to see the Columbus Division of Fire honor their legacy by reinstalling the same values they taught me long before I ever processed my first 9-1-1 call or made my first relocation. 

So what could CFD do to make things better?  Well, it is simple really...

1) Activate the Deccan product.  Program it to ensure that alerts are provided whenever any area of Columbus is unable to be reached by an Engine Company in (8) Minutes or by two Engine Companies in (10) minutes. When it recommends relocations-- start making them. 

2) Connect the City Intergraph system with the suburban CAD systems ASAP.  Using the same combined unit data table as was developed in the DC area, you can save assigning Automatic Aid units to runs that are not available.  On a related note, build the interface to allow these runs to be transmitted seamlessly, shaving minutes off the dispatching times for these types of runs.

3) Utilize CFD Medic Units for BLS runs if they are within 10 minutes of the run, even if  mutual aid unit is closer.  For example, Medic-29 can take the BLS run at  Meijer on Hamilton Road, even though Medic-133 is slightly closer.  This reduces the on mutual aid units while keeping them available for time critical incidents. 

4) Until the link is built in, adjust the ETAs of Mutual aid units by one minute, due to the delay in them getting dispatched.  This will allow a more realistic and effective response to the border areas.

5) Designate Engine-Rescues as "Rescues" and Heavy Rescues as "Heavy Rescues" in the computer system.  Allow The Engine/Rescues to respond as Engines to fires if they are in the closest three engines.  This will get engines on the scene faster in areas such as Polaris and to use those Engine/Rescues more effectively.  For example, a fire in Polaris would be:  Engine-33; Rescue-111; Rescue-101; Ladder-33 & 111; Heavy Rescue 11; Medic-33 and Battalion-2.

6) End the dual rescue response to auto accidents unless there is clear indication of an extrication or an extrication is confirmed.  Then have the assignment be: (2) Extrication Equipped Units, at least one of which must be a Heavy Rescue.  This would increase availability and save the HRs from responding clear across the city when their services are almost never required. 

7) All CFD units should monitor the primary dispatch channel at all times on at least one radio.  This will help maintain situational awareness of nearby incidents and the need to redirect when required.  The Intergraph CAD can be programmed to recommend the redirection of units-- from one call to another when they may be passing a new call, or when they would be better used at a higher priority event. 

8) During storms, EMS units should respond alone to all but the highest priority medical events.  This will help maintain Engines free for the 2nd call. 

9) In the event that any surplus personnel are available on a shift, they should be provided to the busiest outer medic units as drivers (Medic 32,5, 29, 33, 26, 31, 30, 28, 22, 4)-- thereby keeping the Engines in service for the next run in that area.  It kills response times to have Engines (with medics on board) follow another truck to medic runs instead of saving them for the next call where they will be of much better use.  The new CAD can be programmed for this as well. 

That's my suggestions for now.  Perhaps someone will read them and at least think about them.  Hopefully they do, but they will work for many other agencies as well.

Be safe.

I really just need to stop...

So now the Koch brothers want to destroy Public Transit.  Violence in New York City is totally out of control.  Islamist hordes are waiting to wade ashore on Long Island and kill us all, if Ebola doesn't do it first.  The Supreme Court is destroying whatever scraps of American civilization that will survive the plague and the only way we can survive it all is if we arm ourselves to the teeth with firearms; give money to the ASPCA; and scan children's candy for poison and razor blades come Halloween time.
Whew.  And that was just today.  Is it any wonder in this sensationalized world of media; ADHD; panic; and ignorance that we are overcome by fear.  If this one is elected-- if that one has the right to marry-- if we don't seal the borders- If this one thing happens the world as we know it will simply cease to exist right there in cloud of dust. 

I wonder what they thought on December 8, 1941.  The word had changed in an instant.  The march of Hitler's troops; and Japan's and Italy's had been nearly untapped for four years.  So many nations had fallen by then-- so many terrible images, but not really an American Tragedy. At least not for the masses.  Until that morning after.  That infamy day when FDR would speak to the Nation and our part of WWII would come fully to form. 

The American public was faced then by a real crisis.  They saw into and wrapped themselves around real fear.  And they reacted with honor and purpose.  They came together to defeat the threat.  We always do that in the face of a real foe.  This country, some may say, is at its best when we have to unite to face a problem.  I have seen it here in NYC- during the Blackout; After Superstore Sandy, and on a September 12th thirteen short years ago. 

Maybe those that now try to find their choice of boogeyman in every single situation and event that happens every single day are trying to find that thing to unite us.  Or maybe at least unite us enough to spend money; or give generously to some cause. But I fear it is not with any real purpose other than to react to the prodding fears (or moneyed interests) that call out the latest threat.  It is hard to know the difference for some.  Too many, in fact, do not take the time to look at what are real threats-- and what are just underhanded grasps for more-- more money, more power, more influence; more... more... more. So they buy in.  Not just with their dollars- but with their passion.  And they post on Facebook and they scan the streets for illegals and they finally pick up their dusty bible to use one small part to justify hatred of a few.  They see in everyone they meet the difference. Not the similarities.  And they buy into everything they are told and that they hear but they shut off all available resources to listen or to learn or to understand. 

In this shrill time and in in this even more shrill nation, there are things to be afraid of.  But, for me, it is the question of what kind of world altering event will have to happen to shake people out of this phase.  A God-given slap to mankind.  A message that gets them to stop screaming-- stop worrying about how best to make their money at the expense of other people.  History has done this before.  A Tsunami wasn't enough.  Global Warming isn't enough.  Wars are not enough.  What will it take for us to really arise to the challenge of being a human race, of one people.  That is what I am afraid of.  I guess we shall see.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Writer Looks at Forty

I can honestly say that I had no expectations of what this day would feel like.  I remember seeing the high school kids with my third grade eyes. The excitement of knowing someday I would be that tall, drive a car, go to college. I remember starting at Ohio State and eagerly awaiting the day I would graduate.  Those points, like the other end of a bridge, were there... waiting for me.  And they came soon enough.  

But this is a little different.  A milestone without the mountain climb or the hill.  I don't feel like I have crested the wave, or reached a summit.  I suppose it feels more like a long steep incline somewhere on a mountain, above that point where the green fades to grey and the living things move no further.  

I was in Utah for the first time recently.  The mountains around Salt Lake City look as though they were dropped there.  Or carved out of some child's eager efforts to get the highest grade ever achieved in a Geography Class though a use of plaster and food coloring that goes beyond the imagination.  I thought Brigham Young just brought the Mormon faith, perhaps he dropped the peaks as well. They look that out of place and are draw you in just as the young ones do who work so hard to introduce you into the faith. 

I sat for a long time looking at them and the valley and the radiance.  As the sun slipped away that evening, the light shimmered across the flatness, bouncing off the buildings and the glass and the houses and the pavement. It was an amazing sight, and I have to say that I felt at peace.  Like a million Christmas stars over a million mangers.  I knew then why, for so many, it was the place.  

There are not many times that I feel that much at ease anymore.  They come so rarely that I can catalog them-- like great lovers or good books.  Both of which find a spot on the shelf of your memory and remain among the dust and the wood and the yellowed pages of a favorite volume. But seeing those mountain tops and that setting sun, It felt as though I belonged. As though I had accomplished something.  Maybe that's what brings peace now.  When you get so far along a road you just want to know you have arrived somewhere. Someplace calm and inspiring and warm. Even if only for a moment or two. 

I feel peace in his arms too.  Even in the middle of a painful day.  It feels like that mountain.  The light bounces the same way off the sheets and the smile.  And it feels like being inside a cup of hot chocolate on an October Morning just before Halloween.  

Maybe that is the point that is supposed to come into focus as the pages flip on the days of future passed. Maybe its less about feeling accomplished than it is just about feeling. The feeling of the ache in the shoulder that doesn't often go away.  The feeling of loving in a way you didn't think you could.  The feeling of awe at the top of a hill that reminds you of a journey that, at least in some form, is not forever. 

I guess that is the difference.  Forever is a word in the vocabulary of a third grader... I wonder if it is still in mine.  Maybe it doesn't have to be. If we can see the beauty in a million moments that flow together.  Just like the orange drops of light twinkling across the Utah Plateau, or the smile of someone we have waited a long time to see.