Leadership?…….It’s Elementary My Dear Watson

Recently, I got to re-watch a special about a man by the name of Dr. Joseph Bell. Dr. Bell lived in Edinburgh in the 1800’s. It is thought by many that he was the actual inspiration for the fictional character Sherlock Holmes.
Dr. Bell’s student A. Canon Doyle wrote about some of the things he learned from Dr. Bell and did so by inventing and writing the Sherlock Holmes Character.
So…what brings me to leadership?
During this presentation I was watching Dr. Bell explained his three basic principles for teaching early scientific methods (forensics) to his students.
His three principles he taught them were these:
Let’s apply those to being a good leader.
My thought here went in a couple of directions (what are the odds?). The first is as an officer, supervisor or leader you should say little and listen a lot. I have been exposed to so many leaders that have no concept of what is really going on in the agencies or companies it is disheartening. They call themselves great managers and leaders but they have no idea what is really going on in their command. Observation is more than a cursory glance it is really looking at things like Sherlock might have through a fine ever present magnifying glass. If we observe those fine, minute details the large problems will take care of themselves.
The second part or thought about observation I had, was how difficult it can really be and how it takes an effort. I am speaking now of the fire chiefs who fancy themselves as administrators only and do not even go to alarms or emergencies any longer. They have not really observed what is going on because they are too busy or they do not want to be perceived as checking on the troops. BULL! Get out from behind your desk, leave your ivory tower and actually observe your operation, you might be surprised (pleasantly or unpleasantly) at what you see.
After you have observed, think about what you have actually seen. Reason with yourself, and revisit any previous experiences you might have had that would have been similar. Research what others have done, spoken, and or written about a similar situation and make a decision. The definition of the word really means to come to some conclusion by reasoning. As this relates to leadership and handling of problems, my advice and analogy is pretty simple. Come to a conclusion and make a decision one way or another. Leaders today have lost their ability to take risks, educated guess, and have suffered analysis paralysis. These people do observe, and then they fail to come to any conclusions.
After you have observed and made some brilliant deductions we hope, you should not rest. You should continue to confirm what you thought and whether or not your proposed solution has positively affected the situation. This fail to follow up is critical. It can lead you to believe that every deduction you have made is perfect and that in fact you know you never have to follow up because after all you were right all along. This failure can compound itself by making and continuing to make horrible decisions in the future. It also ties in with my first comments about observations. Many supervisors today feel that following up and checking on subordinates is a bad thing. It is your job and your responsibility and if you do not have the stomach for it then get a paper route.
In summary I thought that these three simple basic rules as taught to medical students in the 1800’s applied to leadership principles.
In fact I think they have some merit in the tactical operations of firefighting as well for that matter.
Upon arrival make an observation (size-up), make some deduction (fire in a void space or a 2 1/2 story wood frame) and confirm by sending crews to ventilate and attack using standard tactics.
The three principles as stated could have been the basis of the DECIDE method used in hazardous materials by Benner as well.
Oh yeah… and Dr. Bell also always told his medical students the following…The lessons are presented in the classroom, they are learned by the bedside of patients.
How true that is and how well that applies to us in the fire service. Learn and study the educational lessons, but field experience is a must for a safe and effective firefighter or fire officer.
So some of the principles of leadership really are elementary!
Thank you Dr. Bell !
Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013