Leadership in a World Gone Mad

Times are tough my friends. There is not a day which goes by when you and I fail to see the harsh realities of the current economic state of our nation. Fire departments are being asked to come up with budget cuts which are devastating in the depth and...

I always use these sorts of sources with a certain amount of care, as there appears to be a growing school of thought within the fire service that tells us that we are in control of our own destiny. There are people out there who will tell you that if you are tough enough, self-sufficient enough, and brave enough, you can do anything. I look at this in a different light. It is my belief that there is more help available to us than any of us can imagine. Given the problems we are facing in 2010, I would suggest to all that a little bit of prayer and belief in a high power could not hurt any of us.

Let me return to a quotation that I have used a number of times in my writing and speaking career. It expresses my views on the interrelationships that lie between us all. These words come from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, written by John Donne (1572-1631) in 1624. They read as follows:

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

My interpretation of this is quite simple. We are all dependent, one upon the other for each aspect of what we do. Does it not seem like Mr. Donne was making the case for cooperation on the grand scale? I have used this concept of cooperative thinking as the basis for a great deal of what I do in the many aspects of my life. Whether in my service to the organizations on behalf of whom I labor, or in the way that I believe organizations should operate, I look to cooperation as the cornerstone of how we operate. My service as a band member has taught me a great deal about the need to blend in for the good of the organization. A band is the sum of the talents of the many, blended according to the will of the leader.

Those of you who know me personally are well aware of the fact that I do not shy away from controversial positions. The world of firefighting seems to prize the rugged individual who walks through flames to get the job done. We teach teamwork, but heap heavy praise upon the singular hero. These are the people who sincerely believe that the toughest firefighter deserves to become the fire chief. And as we are told, tough guys are the servants of no one. Every knee shall bow at the mention of their names.

In this world of toughness, my style of concerned and caring leadership takes a hit from the tough guys. Tough guy leaders are not servants of anyone or anything. They yell orders and make people do things. And if something goes wrong, it is because the people following the tough guy leader just don't know how to follow his or her brilliant orders. I worked for people like this, and they were the genesis of my search for a better way of doing things.

Battling for reasonable support is an extremely tough and demanding task. I wrote about the problems we are experiencing in society with people who scream, yell, and demand that their way be the only way. I am strongly suggesting here that the best leader for our current times is not necessarily the toughest one. Perhaps it is time for the return of the gentle leader to our world.

I am not suggesting a namby-pamby person who will roll over at the slightest scary words from the boss. Not, what I am suggesting is the sort of leader who is calm, quiet, and resolute in the interactions with others. These are the people who will succeed because they choose to arm themselves with three important commodities:

  • Facts
  • Figures
  • Friends

They know what the true facts of any situation are. They have taken the time to arm themselves with the correct figures to support their case. And they have spend a great deal of time building up a solid network of supporters in the community who trust and defend their actions to the powers that be. The do not rant and they do not rave. The work like attorneys to build a solid case for their client: the fire department.

Criticism of my methods has not stopped me. Occasionally it has slowed me, but in fact such criticism normally makes work harder and better hone my arguments. I have been swimming up stream for a long time now. It serves to stimulate me for newer, bigger, and better ways of doing business. Think back to that old homily that says that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. That is one way of doing business that I admire. As I have written on many occasions, we need to build bridges rather than fortresses.