One of firefighting’s greatest leaders ever —Chief Alan Brunacini— gives ‘power goofers’ a good hosing.

threadplate roomWhen I first met Alan Brunacini, I had no idea that he was a prototype of what I would come to call “the dolphin thinker.” He was simply a super-nice guy, who was already being steadily promoted by his employer, the Phoenix (Ariz.) Fire Department. I was a reporter for the local newspaper. A few minutes after shaking his hand for the first time, I scurried with him to his battalion chief’s car and we headed off to a reported fire at the head of a column of fire vehicles, sirens and horns blaring. It turned out to be a false alarm, but Alan Brunacini didn’t. (As you’ve no doubt already surmised, that’s him pictured above, courtesy of

Alan was not only destined to become chief of the Phoenix department a few years after I met him but also one of the most respected figures in firefighting management world-wide. I featured him in Chapter Seven of LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Right, Smart Thing Come Hell or High Water as—you guessed it—one of my prototypical dolphin thinkers.

He’s retired from the fire service now but busier than ever urging the profession’s participants—in particular, those in command positions—to do exactly what the sub-title of LEAP! encourages everyone to do. He did that a few issues ago in Fire Engineering, the industry trade journal, with a rift on what he called “power goofs” by people in authority in the fire service. His way of calling the power goof-ers out was to list their power-abusing behaviors in vivid language. As I read through it, I realized that I’d never seen a better job done of pinpointing what it is that users of the mindset we call “the shark” at BTC does to foster scarcity in organizations where they exercise control.

Without further ado, here are Chief Brunacini’s descriptions of what power goofers do that proves so debilitating to organizations. Unfortunately, these behaviors aren’t limited to the fire service.

• They are abusive in ways that cause results that range from hurt feelings to disrupted careers.
• They threaten talented subordinates.
• They kiss up/kick down.
• They like the limelight: “front and centeritus.”
• They are given to continuous self-aggrandizement: status seeking (letters behind the name, pictures/name/title on everything, and so on).
• They regard everyone as rivals; they are excessively competitive.
• They make the job and the boss bigger than they are.
• They exert themselves in the wrong way/at the wrong time.
• They steal, hoard, and mismanage credit, continually inflating their own performance/status.
• They assault, murder, or kidnap ideas for personal attention and credit.
• They are preoccupied with how they look instead of how they are doing (appearance freak).
• They play someone else’s role, do someone else’s job instead of their own, operate outside of their assigned “lane.”
• They possess the uncontrollable urge to unnecessarily “fix,” change, or alter things by adding their “fingerprints” on them.
• They strategically create problems (generally “slow balls”) so they can solve them and then take credit.
• They cannot take “yes” for an answer.
• They act as bullies.
• They automatically say, “I”/”me”/”mine” in every statement about anything positive (the “I” person).
• They use careless, inappropriate, and untruthful language.
• They brag about hitting a triple when they were actually born on third base.
• They believe that being “nice” is a weakness.
• They create a reward for others to (competitively) bring news to them before anyone else gets the news (reporting race to the boss).
• They give inordinate credit to those who shower attention, flattery on them.
• They use their position to always put (and then dominate) subordinates and others at a disadvantage.
• They act in a way that always shows others that they are in charge.
• They confuse monologue (me lecturing) with dialogue (us conversing).
• They play goofy information games (information is power) and manipulate information in a self-serving way.
• They irritate others, are abrasive, and aggravate people (because they can) to keep them off balance (just plain poor manners).
• They lack social radar (close their eyes when they open their mouth).
• They keep self-made, unnecessary secrets to keep others in suspense and off balance; divulge confidential information.
• They operate with a double standard and continually play favorites.
• They withhold approval until the other person complies or behaves in a boss-approved way.
• They overcomplicate a simple process and then hide in the confusion.
• They practice cronyism: allocate resources, assignments, and projects based on politically motivated friend/enemy, insider/outsider, okay/not okay relationships.
• They are preoccupied with being shown respect and their reputation and act out in revenge.
• They create and then patrol overdefined and unnecessary organizational levels.
• They are rude/mean/uncivil to keep people off balance.
• They continually lose their temper; they are chronically angry and yelling (”rageaholic”).
• They overreact (tantrum) when they don’t get their way or what they want.
• They are personally disloyal, backstabbers.
• They employ excessive/hurtful verbal sarcasm.
• They are disruptively impatient.
• They are dishonest (will end up in jail eventually).
• They are aloof and unapproachable.
• They are organizational hermits-they hide out to avoid contact, controversy, or anything or anybody “messy.”
• They have a messed up sense of timing: They take too long to decide or decide too quickly.
• They always demand an excessive level of detail that confuses, frustrates, and kills action (paralysis by analysis).
• They are excessively risk adverse: They always play it safe, never take a smart chance, and think the sky is falling (yellow light is always on).
• They create organizational fear as a control measure.
• They do not understand the dynamics of feelings; they are emotionally illiterate.
• They are poor listeners.
• They have a closed mind to progress that involves change, discomfort, or additional effort- anything that disrupts the status quo.
• They never ever forgive/forget; they continually bring up past mistakes, missteps, or misjudgments.
• They fail to recognize that or behave as if they have a boss.
• They are excessively preoccupied with the prerogatives of their position (they continually patrol the perimeter of their job description).
• They make others wrong so they can be “right.”
• They are untrainable/unteachable/impossible to help.
• They are artificially expanding the importance of their role/job/performance to look good (occupational narcissism).
• Their ego has partially or completely eaten their brain.

If you’d like to read Chief Brunacini’s article, go here. If you’d like to invite him to tell your managers how to avoid thinking like a power goofer (and think like a dolphin), you can reach him here.

Please forward comments to me at and I’ll post them.

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