Leadership Under Fire: Rowing with One Oar

Command and control has been the name of the fire service leadership game for decades, maybe even centuries. That is, when it comes to how decisions and directions are given at most fire departments, it is “my way or the highway” and “do as you...


In reflection of the personal power sources and their effectiveness, the best examples most likely can be found in your own experience. We’ll bet that every fire service veteran can recall someone in their career who treated them with respect, took them under their wing, and shared their knowledge in order to serve as a mentor. Most likely fond memories have survived from those caring and trusting relationships. Trust is the secret ingredient of leadership and one component that is commonly ignored by far too many fire service leaders. Indeed, the modern fire service leader does well to foster and nurture trusting relationships through effective use of the personal power sources of expert and referent power.

Whether a leader is rowing a boat or running a fire department, it is very inefficient to use one oar or rely on the old, staid approach of telling others what to do. Those old forms of position power are simply not effective in today’s world at motivating and sustaining the best efforts of followers (quite frankly, even in the “old days,” they weren’t very effective!). A much better leadership approach is to use two oars by empowering followers to help with the rowing through the use of personal power and the development and nurturing of respectful and trusting relationships!

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Next month we will discuss how successful leaders use a “leaders toolbox” that is available to them to motivate followers. Until then, Krueger and Peterson are out!

JOSEPH L. KRUEGER is a 31-year veteran of the fire service who is currently an assistant chief with the McHenry Township Fire Protection District in McHenry, IL. Joe has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is also a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Joe also has extensive experience in leadership and management in the private sector and is a principal partner of White Helmet Innovations. DAVID F. PETERSON is a 31-year veteran of the fire service who is currently an assistant chief with the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department in Milton, WI, and a fire officer with the City of Madison. Dave has a B.S. in fire service management from the University of Southern Illinois and is also a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Dave is a graduate student in leadership through Grand Canyon University's Ken Blanchard School of Business and is a principal partner of White Helmet Innovations. You can reach Krueger and Peterson by e-mail at: whitehelmetinnovations@gmail.com.