The Board of Directors:
In an organization, the larger decisions are often made by a group of members who collectively can render the best decision based on their wealth of experience and knowledge. This is commonly known as the board of directors. They provide direction and guidance. There are many good and bad examples of organizations whose board of directors have either lead them successfully or have driven them into the ground.
In our lives, we can learn a great deal from the ‘board of director’s’ analogy. To understand our purpose, to stay accountable, and to stay encouraged we all need a board of directors in our lives. They can provide wisdom, guidance, support and valuable advice. Their ‘life experiences’ serve as a model for us and when they speak to us we respect their opinion for they have earned our trust. As in any organization we should be very cautious in choosing who serves on our board of directors. These individuals may serve indefinitely or they may only serve on ‘our board’ for a few years; but having a ‘board of directors’ in our lives is a priceless commodity.
In the fire service, the value of having a personal ‘board of directors cannot be overstated. As a young and upcoming firefighter, it is tremendously valuable to have a ‘board of directors’ who provide the proper guidance, training, and advice. The future of a young firefighter could be steered in a disastrous direction without the proper counsel and support. For example, if one who is passionate and energetic about the calling of a firefighter becomes involved in a poorly led department with negative peers they may be tempted to fall into the trap of bitterness. Their passionate vision for the fire service may be snuffed out by being in a ‘vent limited’ environment. It is truly sad to consider how many future leaders of the fire service may have given up due to the lack of support that they so desperately needed early on in their career.
As one moves forward into positions of leadership in the fire service the value of having a ‘board of directors’ becomes even more important. In organizations, corporations, and the fire service as we move up into positions of greater accountability our board of directors may become smaller. As a firefighter we may have had ten trusted brothers or sisters we could call upon but now as a Battalion Chief we may have three individuals that we have absolute trust to share our burdens with.
In 2010, I found myself in a dangerous position; discouraged, bitter, and with only one member on his board of directors. This led to many changes in my life. This writing is to encourage others and provide anyone, firefighter or not, with a principle based support system for life.
1) Establishing a Personal Board of Directors:
An individual’s ‘board of directors’ is based on understanding his or her strengths and weaknesses. A wise mentor once told me before I was promoted that I needed an ICN: Informal Captain’s Network. He instructed me to choose five trusted senior Captains (some active and some who are retired) and reach out to them. Keep their phone numbers close and maintain this relationship by continual communication. This has been tremendously valuable to myself and has helped me through some very difficult situations (personally and professionally). I then began to understand that my personal board of directors needed to be based on areas in my own life where I needed constant guidance, support, encouragement, and accountability. Thus the board of directors follows the following format.
This individual is the ‘go to’ person for the big decisions of life. This person must have paid their dues through adversity, trials, failures, success and be willing to share those moments with you. For myself this person is my Father: Joe Starnes. He has checked on me every day of my career by calling me each morning after my shift. I am blessed with an hour ride home in which I have often spent that entire hour talking with him. It has been the best Critical Incident Stress Management Program that I could have. When my father goes to heaven, God will place an extra star in his crown for all that he has done in the service of others. For he has paid it forward especially in my life.
3) Leadership Counsel:
When we face the tough questions or situations in life what would we give to be able to pick up the phone and call the Chief of a large department and receive their counsel? The world of social media has allowed many of us to establish relationships and bonds of friendship with fire service visionaries. It has blessed me and I am so thankful that I have several members of the fire service that I can call who will take the time to speak with me on matters of leadership. It has been said that when an elderly person dies, the world should mourn as if a priceless library of artifacts has burned down. If you have someone in your life that has faced great adversity (World War II veteran, retired leader of an organization, etc.) consider yourself blessed. Go and reach out to them. Sit and listen to their life story and take notes. Our next lesson in leadership can either be paid through trial & tribulation or learned from the dues paid by someone much wiser than ourselves.
Everyone will face hard times in their life at some point. The question for us all is this: “Do we let them destroy us or refine us?” It is when we are knocked down that we realize that brotherhood by encouragement is so important. Many individuals have given up, lost hope, and made decisions that have terrible consequences for their life. It is my belief that by having a strong support network of encouragement that we can get through these dark times. “Two are better than one because…For if either of them falls, the one will lift up the other.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) For myself, I have three individuals that periodically check in on me. They know my mannerisms, my behavioral issues, and all of my past demons; and surprisingly enough they are still friends with me. I am blessed that we check on each other with a phone call, breakfast after our shift, or a random visit to my house. They are angels on loan to me in my life and I cannot thank God enough for them. Remember, a kind word costs us nothing but the dividends they pay are eternal.
This is one of the most overlooked positions on an individual’s personal ‘board of directors’. Many of us want to receive guidance, encouragement, and support but we don’t like to be held accountable. In the fire service and in our lives, if we do not have accountability measures in place we are headed for disaster. In my own life, I know that I am weak in many areas and I am well aware of my sins. I have come to understand that “I cannot possibly serve another in un-famed humility if I seriously regard their sinfulness as worse than my own” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). I am blessed to have a few brothers that hold me accountable in my faith, in my family, and in the fire service. They do not hesitate to inform me when I am slacking, heading in the wrong direction, or if I am blatantly wrong. They are the most important members of my ‘Board of Directors.’ All of the things that matter in life hinge upon our ability to be obedient to God, the people we love, and our calling. I can honestly say that without these trusted friends I would have been lost. “A rebuke goes deeper to an understanding person than a hundred lashes to a fool” (Proverbs 17:10). I have grown tired of the lashes and welcome my accountability members rebuke.
In closing, I share these words with you not to condemn or criticize anyone but to share my own personal failings in life. I know that I am blessed to be where I am and that I do not deserve the wonderful faith, family, and fire department life that I have but for some reason God has allowed these blessings in my life. I look back upon my regrets and my mistakes and now realize that if I had listened to instruction and had a ‘board of directors’ that I would have suffered less and learned even more. It is my hope and prayer that you would seek out your own personal ‘Board of Directors.’ And I pray that you approach them in an attitude of humility and seek their guidance. And most importantly, when they share their counsel with you; don’t disregard it! They earned that wisdom through painful trials and tribulations and their hope is that we will not make the same mistakes as they did. Let us pay it forward by embracing their wisdom and applying in our own lives; thereby paying them the respect and honor that they deserve.
With the backing of a strong board of directors, we now have a support system to encourage us, lead us, and correct us thereby keeping us accountable in our faith, our family, and our work in the fire service.
Wisdom is priceless, counsel is valuable, and applying it all under the multitude of counselors ensures that you will be able to do the same for someone else some day.
Andy J. Starnes
Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries