Riding the Right Front Seat — Part 1

The idea for this column (with an apology to the Beatles) came to me as I was preparing for a doctoral-level course in leadership I was facilitating for Capella University in Minneapolis, MN. As I read a textbook for the course, I came across a phrase that jumped off the page. It was a simple statement, but its meaning screamed for me to do something.

The textbook is Every Officer Is a Leader: Transforming Leadership in Police, Justice and Public Safety by Terry D. Anderson, et al (Trafford Publishing Co., 2006, www.trafford.com). Within that textbook, researchers James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner (The Leadership Challenge, 1987) are quoted as claiming that love is the secret of true leadership success. They define love as "encouragement, loyalty, teamwork, commitment and respect for the dignity and worth of others." Anderson and his collaborators go on to claim that "(love) is an affair of the heart and not of the head." I frequently cite biblical sources as the basis for how far back in history love goes. One of the great messages about love comes from First Corinthians. I have heard it many times, usually as part of a wedding ceremony. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs."

Anderson provided an updated version of this verse, one that seems more in line with the way we think and speak today. Part of that citation states "love doesn't strut; doesn't have a swelled head; doesn't force itself on others; isn't always 'me first'; doesn't fly off the handle; doesn't keep score of the wrongs of others; doesn't revel when others grovel (and) … never looks back, but goes on to the end."

The sort of love alluded to by the authors of the textbook is not the stuff of romance novels. The authors are suggesting that a leader must identify the motivators in the lives of their followers. They must identify the needs of their people and create ways in which those needs can be met by the fire department, its members and its leaders. I would suggest they allude to the "Moral Compass" topics I have taught to students around our nation. Quite simply, leaders should develop:

• Honesty

• Integrity

• An awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses

• The ability to recognize and compensate for their limitations

• Good communications skills

• Empathy

• The ability to coach and counsel others in the organization

• The ability to solve problems

• The ability to accept criticism

• The ability to bring people together in a positive way to advance the vision of their organization

• An awareness of the importance of a positive, optimistic attitude

Let me offer the opinion that it will be difficult for many of you to develop and practice these things in your organization. In far too many instances, no one will be modeling these behaviors for you. Let me also suggest that you will need to move out of your organization to discover the important skill areas that must be developed to succeed as a leader.

Because no one on the "home team" is using these behaviors, you (and hopefully a friend or two) will be forced to travel to fire service conferences to experience training in their development and use. Expect a great deal of animosity from those people to whom your new ideas will appear as a threat to the existing order. You will be seen as a threat to the status quo. Expect to be shunted off to the side and given poor assignments and a great deal of personal abuse. This will be a real test of your character and resilience.

The key to success in this endeavor centers on the way in which you choose to react. Yelling and screaming on your part are worse than no good. Leave that to the martinets. As St. Matthew writes, "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you."

Will this be easy? No, but if you do it correctly, you will confound them. Smile a lot and be nice to your enemies. If nothing else, it will confuse the living daylights out of them. Once you decide to be a true leader and an agent of change in your fire department, strap on your seatbelt and get ready for a rocky ride. Even if you do not totally succeed, the journey will be exciting and well worth the effort.

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, and veteran of 46 years in the fire and emergency service. He is chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners of Howell Township, NJ, Fire District 2 and retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. Carter also has been a member of the Adelphia Fire Company in Howell Township for 38 years, serving as chief in 1991. Carter is a member of the American Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain, for which he formerly served as vice president and secretary. He also is president of the New Jersey Association of Fire Districts, a life member of the National Fire Protection Association and former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. Carter holds six degrees, with his terminal degree being a Ph.D. in business administration from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN, where he is an adjunct faculty member.