I remember when I first made fire chief. The “have to” things that came with the job made me cringe. City Council meetings, staff meetings, chiefs’ meetings, Mayor’s prayer breakfasts, Rotary and Kiwanis Club meetings—the list of “have to do” went on and on.
I felt animosity toward my city manager. After all, he was directing me to do these things. After wrestling with my feelings, I learned it wasn’t the city manager I was upset with—it was my father!
How do those two things go together, you ask? When I was younger, my father put a lot of “have to do” things on me: yard work, house chores, homework, school, sports, working for his business. I often felt I was being nagged all the time. And the situation with my city manager brought up those feelings again.
Oh, did I mention I had to go to church and Bible school every weekend? At church, it was reinforced that I had to submit to my father: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).
Interestingly, the Bible also instructs us to obey the government: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). The Bible is clear that all human authority is established by God; therefore, it demands our respect and obedience.
So where am I going with this? As Father’s Day approaches, it may be helpful to examine how our earliest experiences with authority can shape our professional relationships. As a new chief, I chafed under the direction of my city manager because it reminded me of having to submit to my father’s authority. Could similar factors be influencing your interactions?
Have you ever felt defiant toward your superiors at work? Do you have a subordinate who seems to defy any policy or directive from you or management? How about those community members who are professional critics at city council meetings, distastefully chewing on any department head, city manager or council member—I wonder if they have authority issues?
It’s natural for humans to want to rule ourselves. Our point of view seems right, while being required to submit to a government, a parent or a supervisor feels humiliating. But of course, that submission is a necessary and good thing too.
So what should we do about our natural problem with authority?
First, resolve to respect those in positions of authority—whether it is your boss or your father. Don’t get me wrong, respect doesn’t mean blind obedience. We see countless examples of abuse or misuse of authority every day, and we’re obligated to stand up against them. But simply respecting authority figures for what they represent is a conscious way to push back against our natural resistance to submission.
Second, learn to trust authority. Trust me, it is good that they run the department. It’s not easy, and most leaders are under a tremendous amount of stress that most of us wouldn’t want. Though we are quick to armchair-quarterback their efforts, many of us lack the wisdom, power, knowledge and courage to step up and lead. Until you’ve done it, stand down on being that critic.
The people who nagged me as a child and as a new chief also helped me immensely. I learned discipline, responsibility and structure. Pushed to consider different ways of doing things or conducting myself, I also grew as a person.
So this Father’s Day, take a minute to thank (or remember) the guy who held authority over you as a child—and pledge to honor and respect all authority figures. It’s one less thing Dad can nag you about!
Happy Father’s Day!
SAM DIGIOVANNA is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. He also is a consultant for Lexipol Fire Services.