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District 14 pilot mentoring program
A nine-month pilot mentoring program for North West Metro captains and first lieutenants has received rave reviews and pleas for it to continue.
Each mentoring partnership thrived on confidential conversations in person or over the phone and all suggestions were non-binding. The content of those conversations was determined by both participants with no formal requirements from Instructor Kris Wilms and Operations Officer James Dullard who managed the pilot.
Six mentors provided support to less experienced leaders around their broader brigade leadership role. Ray Dickson from Melton brigade was one of those mentors while Captain Jeremy Maries from Mernda brigade was one of the six members mentored.
Ray was the captain who took Melton Fire Brigade into the complex process of integration and was a brigade officer for 21 years. “I’ve seen a lot of transition in that time,” he says, “and the population and workload have hugely increased. It took a lot of planning to get members in the mindset for career firefighters to come in, so I guess they asked me to be a mentor because of that experience of leading people through change.”
Ray believes a leader has to have a strong constitution and a thick skin. He describes his leadership style as democratic. “Don’t be above everyone else,” he says.
“While every brigade has its own personality, the issues are the same and they’re 90 per cent about people. You need to work through HR [human resources] issues while planning for the future. I was paired with a pretty new captain of a brigade the same size as Melton and we bounced around a lot of ideas without pre-conceived answers. We talked about delegating tasks and I guided him towards the HR chart on dispute resolution. I’ve learned from my mistakes and it’s good to find that someone else can also take on those insights.
“It’s good to chew the fat and listen to different viewpoints before making a decision. I’m probably a better listener than talker so the process suited me.”
Captain Jeremy Maries seems to have a strong leadership background. He’s a strike team and crew leader and has completed the Darley VFBV Volunteer Leadership Program.
“Yes, I have experience and confidence,” he agrees, “but I thought I could do with some extra assistance. I want to help the brigade grow and prosper and I wanted some reassurance that I was on the right path.
“The beauty of this program was the introduction to someone with huge experience who I wouldn’t meet in the normal run of things. We quickly broke the ice and I almost immediately felt that trust and that bond.”
Jeremy valued the face-to-face meetings (and the pizza) and was pleased that his mentor turned up with some of his own brigade issues to discuss.
“We’d weigh the pros and cons and I got an objective point of view. I had the chance to get into his head and understand the knowledge that influenced his decisions. I never came back with his solutions but with integrated solutions.
“I think the main lesson was to trust my own judgement. We’re all elected into these leadership positions for a reason so trust yourself because your brigade trusts you. I’ve got better confidence now to stand up and defend my own work. It’s given me the self-assurance to dive right into brigade politics. It can be intimidating when there’s a lot of experience in the room but now I feel able to step up in those distinguished circles.”
While the pilot program is over, Jeremy believes he will have an ongoing relationship with his mentor. “I’m currently working on a brigade business plan and the priorities are constantly changing. My mentor has passed on some fantastic lessons about flexibility and they will stand me and the brigade in good stead.”