Many times throughout my career I have been in a position to promote (or not promote) firefighters into positions of leadership. Sometimes the decision was hard because I was blessed with a number of highly qualified candidates. Other times the decision was easy because I had one candidate who stood out among their peers.
In communicating the decision to the candidates who were not selected, I have noticed the bad news presents an opportunity for a reaction on their part. How they react to the bad news is what I want to address.
Some of the candidates reacted in a way that was so positive and professional that it actually made me regret that I did not promote them. I saw a level of maturity that was absolutely impressive. When I have witnessed this, I have gone out of my way to give this candidate personal time and attention to help ensure the next time I have an officer position open up, they will be the leading candidate. In the bad news I saw their potential shine.
Some candidates, on the other hand, reacted in a way that was so negative and so unprofessional that it confirmed to me that I had made the right decision. I saw a level of maturity that was very unimpressive. When I have witnessed this, I have assured myself that the right decision was made not to promote this person and affirmed this person will likely never be promoted to a position of leadership. A little bit of bad news caused them to self-destruct. That’s not the kind of leader I want on my team.
If things don’t go your way, maintain your professionalism and fashion a positive, supportive response, even if you have to fake it. Being a loser hurts but you should invest great effort in ensuring you use your pain to compel you to address your shortcomings and to become a better qualified leader. If you take that pain and decide someone needs to pay a price for the injustice you faced, your behavior will only affirm to the boss the right decision was made. You may not control what happens to you, but you are in complete control of how you react to what happens to you.
Fire Chief (ret.) Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO, MICP
Executive Director, Center for the Advancement of Situational Awareness & Decision Making