Whenever I speak to young supervisors, I usually offer them several tips to ensure their success in the future. Most of these are tried and true recommendations, some I have been taught or have borrowed from others. All have been refined through the years of their application under pressure and most have been updated due to the advent of technology. One of the more important tips is your connectivity with the right people at the right time. Having them available to you at your beck and call is priceless. It is all about and comes down to relationships. I have frequently stated that on the scene of a crisis is not the time to exchange business cards; you should already have these relationships established. If you are forced to build a team to face a major event and you are not on first name basis with each other, you have a problem.
Many years ago, when I was setting up my first office, I was issued a Rolodex card file for my office set-up. These vintage desk items were those rotary business contact card holders that you added your contacts to. My problem was that mine was empty and I had lots of blank cards. My lesson was to start establishing my network for that station in life and build on it. The rolodex of today is more than likely your cell phone and its contact list. Maybe we can also add your email contact list from the workstation.
Move to 2021
Yes, we still have business cards and most of us add this into our electronic contact list; that is if they make the cut. Here is the point of all of this—who is on your list? In the hectic world of emergency services there are times when we need solutions within seconds. No time to research it on the web. No time to read about it or wait to attend a class. The need for information is now; lives can depend on this. An immense amount of these contacts have one common theme running through them—it takes two to establish a contact. What have you done to refine this list and are you considered a valuable resource to someone else?
One thing I learned from the hazardous materials world (HazMat) was the criticality of time. When they are called for a release of a chemical, time is of the essence for them and safety. One thing I was taught from a HazMat veteran and mentor was that “you should never be more than two phone calls away from an answer.” You roll up on a particular scene and it is out of your wheelhouse, you make that call to a trusted agent or friend. It is then, when you hope to hear them say: “I got a guy.” This is when all of this comes together for you; when you called that one senior or more experienced contact who has somebody in their phone who can be that expert you need now. You were only two calls away from an answer.
So, who made your list? I would strongly suggest that the list is broken down into categories. The first would be your staff members and who does what. As a new chief or commander taking over a new staff, you do need to perform a staff inventory. More than names, numbers and official assignments. Make sure when you are learning your staff that you note what skillsets they unofficially bring to the table. If they have backgrounds in other skills or even who their contact lists could be. There is always one who is the technology person. There is always that one who is your unit’s Radar O’Reilly who gets things done and you never know how, nor do you question them. A tip I always give new chiefs is to make notes of your staff and learn about them to properly manage them. Are they married or coming off a bad divorce? Are they smokers or drinkers? You do not ask them to cover a social or public event where they could be uneasy about the surroundings or situations they may be put in. I always kept a note card in my calendar book with little personal tidbits about staff while in the adjusting phase.
Of course, you will have a list of elected officials and important people (both real and self-important). These are always there in case you need to notify or need to connect for a reason. The school district staff members, media contacts and other governmental contacts. One you need to have strong relationships with will be your Public Works leadership. You will always need a street opened, closed, detoured or cleaned up. Environmental disasters and weather emergencies will be your connection, but it needs to be agreeable relationship rather than strictly professional. Go have coffee together and become friends, you two will need each other. Others on this list will be your agency’s solicitor, but not to forget your own personal attorney as well. Do not forget your insurance agents or their field representatives for claim advice; you could lose out if you do not follow the policy.
Of course, the law enforcement team list will include the district attorney’s office, coroner, local, county, state and federal partner agencies. Various task forces and other interesting groups such as county and state chiefs or sheriff associations. Homeless outreaches, women’s centers, veteran outreaches and chambers of commerce are great to have for those moments you need quick connections to make something happen for a situation. Your list should and will be more in depth. Due to the COVID learning curve, have county and state health officials straight contacts; you do not want to listen to elevator music.
There should be that list with your spiritual leaders. I know we most all have chaplains for call outs. They should be a variety composed of pastor, rabbi, priest or other religious leaders in your area. One religion does not fit all, although professionally trained chaplains will know how to part the waters to assist. However, a variety of spiritual support never hurts, so have depth within this team. It is important that you have support for your police and personnel as well. In this list should be your employee assistance contacts, crisis intervention staff, human resources and psychologist. You should be the biggest supporter to your staff on their worst days. By caring for them you invest in them for they are your biggest assets.
In my list I do have a private, personal support person or two. These are my mentors or trusted friend who I can just talk to. In police work my old partner and I had confidential conversations that neither our spouses nor our priests would ever hear. It is very important to have this person, but it is also more important since you know them deeper than most to perform a “buddy check” on them to keep you both strong and viable.
Your career can be a complex journey of mixing life with your vocation. I will admit that many of my professional contacts are also on the friend, mentor and spiritual support lists. It often just becomes a big family list. Working today can be difficult on us all; there is no need to complicate life. You cannot do it all without the assistance of others. The difference here is like comparing checkers and chess: you must have a strategy in your planning, not just names with numbers. Hopefully, the help you need is only a call away and no more than two.