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Embrace the Younger Generation

No matter what age you are there is always a younger generation behind you. Too often we don’t think they are contributing as much as we did at their age. Let’s start from the basic fact that children are born to replace us and in most cases they will one day; you will have retired and they will be running the country, town and/or fire station.

So let us figure out how we can give them the benefit of our experience, wisdom and knowledge and how we can also benefit in turn from their experience, wisdom and knowledge without falling into this traditional old mind set;

“The younger generation now live in luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise” a quote incorrectly attributed to Plato in 300BC. But according to Cambridge professor Kenneth Freeman as far back as 1907 this was identified as being attributed to many notable people throughout the ages.

Those of you in the middle of your career will find there is always a younger and older generation. The forty year old Station Officer thinks that the thirty year old fire fighter has a lot to learn and that the sixty year old Superintendent is old school. Now imagine what the firefighter and superintendent are thinking?

There are two ways to face this issue, one is to leave it as it is and each generation has to learn the hard way or, alternatively acknowledge that you will be superseded and engage with those coming up behind you. Notice I didn’t use the words assist, help, mentor or advise because all these processes are usually one way. However, listening and talking across different generations will see each benefit from the wisdom of the other.

This type of change in the culture of a rank-based organisation is not easy. As I said before, it has been going on for thousands of years and a small example of how hard it is exists in the promotional system within Emergency Services, that is, leadership roles are traditionally a function of age. I am not saying agencies don’t promote on merit, but I’m saying that the systems mean that you will be old when you get to the top. You would have to say, looking at the EM incumbents that this is rife in the Asia Pacific region. The rank system with one step at a time and a healthy stay at each level ‘to get experience’, makes it difficult for young leaders to emerge. Also the inability of emergency services to flatten their rank structure results in this perpetuating into the future. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people that have jumped a rank and all of these have come from another agency and not been promoted from within. It may be worth looking over the fence into the commercial world where young leaders have a greater chance of stepping up to the plate.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many excellent leaders in the so called older generation, I’m just saying we have systems in place that may be mean that we are not achieving the benefit of all available leaders in the pool.

There are a number of standout agencies that are looking at fast track programs and youth leadership initiatives that should be encouraged and copied. It is one of those things that should be showcased at industry conferences to get the message across.

Never forget the younger generation is the future and it is your role to make their climb easier.

Top image courtesy of Alejandro Pena

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Asia Pacific Fire, Editor