The Art of ARFF (part 7) - The Army on the March

A sure path to defeat on the battlefield, and the fire ground, is lack of disciplined personnel.  Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a discipline deficiency is the first step to ensuring victory with your personnel. This is the subject of section 9 of Sun Tzu's, Art of War. In this section of verses we see four signs and symptoms of discipline deficiency, and we see the four cures for this deficiency.  Upon seeing the first glimpses of these signs and symptoms the department heads should seriously examine the department and personnel and make needed corrections.  

If there is disturbance in the camp, the general's authority is weak.  If the banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry, it means that the men are weary...The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking in subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank and file.  --Sun Tzu

4 Signs of a Discipline Deficiency

  1. Disturbance in the camp
  2. Angry officers
  3. Shifting of banners and flags
  4. Small huddles and subdued tones

Disturbance in the camp. If it seems that the daily operations of the shift just do not go smoothly, or it seems that there is always an 'issue' or 'problem' being caused this is a sign of weakened leadership.  The men feel that they do not have to follow the leaders commands.  This is the source of the disturbance.  Instead of just doing what is asked, the officers and personnel feel that they have the right to question every decision, and treat every order as 'optional'.

Shifting of banners and flags. In war banners and flags were used to send signals and messages on the battlefield. Shifting of banners and flags indicates that someone else is sending the signals.  The troops are following another's orders. Though, the leader by title (lieutenant, captain, chief, etc.) has given the orders, the troops are carrying out the commands of another.  This other individual is the person the troops trust, and believe to have their best interests in mind, regardless of formal title.

Angry officers.  If the troops are tired, weary, lack motivation, every task becomes a major undertaking, every command is met with resistance.  This will quickly wear on the officer's patience. The officer has a command to fulfill, he needs his men to accomplish the goal, when they are not working cohesively it makes the job doubly hard.  The officer just wants his people to do the job they are supposed to do.  The troops, however, are not at the peak of their performance.  They are tired or weary.  Their minds are not clear or focused.  This is also tied to the point above, if the officers do not have real authority, the men are following the cues of someone else, the officer will feel defeated.

Small huddles and subdued tones. The disgruntled troops will start to form groups (we might refer to them as 'cliques') with those who share the same complaints.  They will start to separate themselves from the larger department body. These groups can be like cancer to a department.  They start with a few minor complaints,  then spread their negativity and bad ideas to everyone else. Often times the disturbance in the camp, is a result of these small huddles. 

These four symptoms work in a type of loop system and each is connected to another.  If there is a disturbance, a complaint, an uneasiness, a lack of cohesion, the troops start to look elsewhere for leadership.  They are looking to the one that can bring the troops, or shift, back together and establish order.  The troops see the disturbance as a failure on the officers part, and do not follow his commands.  They break away and start to form their own groups and spread their discontent. 

Troops in this condition, that demonstrate these symptoms will not be successful on the battlefield, or on the fire ground. Lack of discipline among the troops, will lead to sure defeat. 

Sun Tzu, does not just tell the symptoms, he provides the cure.  He share 4 cures to having disciplined personnel that will lead to victory.
If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless.  If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless.  Therefore, soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline. This is a certain road to victory.  If in training soldiers commands are habitually enforced, the army will be well-disciplined; if not, its discipline will be bad.  If a general shows confidence in his men bu always insists on his orders being obeyed, the gain will be mutual. --Sun Tzu

4 Cures for Discipline Deficiency

  1. Treat men with humanity; control with discipline
  2. Habitually enforce all commands (even in training)
  3. Show confidence in the men
  4. Insist on orders being obeyed

Treat men with humanity; control with discipline. Treat your personnel well. Make sure to care for their needs. Earn the trust and respect of your people. However, discipline must still be maintained. Ensure that personnel understand the goals of the department, and expectations of its personnel.  When personnel act inappropriately or do not follow orders punishment, and corrective action, must be handed out. Rules, policies, procedures, must be enforced.  When they are not, the trust and respect earned, begins to erode. 

Habitually enforce all commands.  Discipline must be maintained at all times.  Consistency is what is needed.  Even in training, with limited risk, discipline must still be enforced.  When officers let things slide during down times and training, it is believed that the officer will always let things slide.  The officers leadership will then be compromised.  And as long as, personnel feel that they will not be disciplined for disobeying order, or freelancing, then the whole company is at risk.

Show confidence in the men. Trust your personnel.  Do not micro-manage, let them do their job.  Also, do not be quick to discipline, have confidence that your personnel did not deliberately disobey an order, policy, or procedure.  Investigate then discipline.

Insist on orders being obeyed. In today's society people seem to get their feelings hurt easily, they want explanations for everything, and they feel entitled to share their opinion on all matters. As the leader, the commands and orders that you issue must be obeyed.  Hurt feelings, explanations, and other's opinions do not change this fact.

Other articles in this series: