During a recent Study Tour to New York, my colleagues and I had the privilege of spending a day at the Fire Department of New York Training Academy.

We went there to learn about LEADERSHIP.

The FDNY don’t teach leadership from a textbook. They prefer an immersive approach.

So… we suited up.

Just getting into the firefighting gear was one heck of a workout.

Learning how to breathe wearing an oxygen mask and tank, whilst remaining vertical and conscious, was embarrassingly hard.

I’ll admit that I was ready for a rest… but no, it was time to scale a 4 storey building, crawl ‘blind’ around a smoke-filled room to rescue ‘babies’, cut up a car using the jaws of life, and put out a car fire — Turns out I have excellent hose skills. Who knew?

And whilst doing all of this, our trainers shared their stories. Amazing stories, about extraordinary days (like 9/11) and ordinary days (which in our eyes, seemed anything but ordinary).

We marvelled at their comradery and culture.

“Can we bottle it?”

“No, but you can do what we do”.

Rely on the training. Work as a team. Trust each other.

Training. Teamwork. Trust.

Sounds simple, but it got me thinking…

​​How many of us can say that we work in an environment like that – where we can tick those 3 boxes?

Most of us can probably tick the “training” box, but the best training in the world cannot overcome an environment devoid of teamwork and trust.

As an employment lawyer, I see the ramifications of this every day…colleagues who don’t have each other’s’ backs, who work in silos, or actively undermine each other.

So, what’s my main takeaway from my incredible day with the FDNY?

The best LEADERS create a CULTURE that VALUES (in fact demands) TEAMWORK and TRUST.

If you can achieve that in your workplace, you won’t need people like me to come in to ‘put out fires’. [Pun intended].


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