Are You A Leader or a Manager? There Is a Differenrce

How many of you are like me? I love going to fires and really dislike paperwork. Over time, however, I have come to realize the importance of paperwork, and have even become quite talented in that arena. I guess that is how one ends up being an...


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How many of you are like me? I love going to fires and really dislike paperwork. Over time, however, I have come to realize the importance of paperwork, and have even become quite talented in that arena. I guess that is how one ends up being an administrator: by default. You do it better than everyone else, and then you end up continuing to do it.

For many of us, the focus of our careers has been in the technical and operational aspects of service delivery. We fight fires or we prevent fires, and we get a great deal of personal satisfaction from what we do. Many of us have spent many decades happily extinguishing fires or doing our best to prevent them.

Unfortunately, we get so wrapped around the wheel of the doing of things that we frequently overlook an important part of fire department operation. I am referring to that boring part of our lives and those of our fire departments which involve creating and using those management functions that let us get the job done. It is far too easy to forget that the excitement of fire combat and the satisfaction of technical excellence come with a price. If we are to continue our commitment to operational excellence, we must understand the need to create an organization capable of getting the job done.

The accomplishment of our protective goals will occur only if our efforts are built on the bedrock of a successful administrative effort. To place the concept of administration in the proper light, it is essential to define my terms. Let me stress that there is a certain plot of common ground whereupon the varied aspects of administration and management coincide with the world of people and things.

Someone must be responsible for creating the vision and defining the organizational mission. These are the people charged with setting the goals and objectives, creating the strategic plans and providing the logistical imperatives for the people who will do the work of the organization. Never confuse the work of a manager with the tasks of a leader. Even though they are both critical to the success of an organization, they work in different ways. I have seen far too many people who have chosen to lump the concepts of leadership and management into the same definition.

Leadership and management require two distinctly different skill sets. Managers manage resources and leaders lead people. While there are those who consider people to be a resource, I would remind you not to make the mistake of lumping people and toilet paper into the same organizational pool. Whether the toilet paper is ordered by a polite person or a pompous person matters not. The toilet paper does not care who is ordering it. As long as it is ordered and paid for promptly, the toilet paper doesn’t care at all. It just moves along happily fulfilling its critical organizational job.

People, on the other hand, are infinitely more difficult to order about. They have feelings, goals and aspirations, both within the service and without. In his book, Fire Service Management (1973), Professor Donald F. Favreau provided one of the simplest and best definitions of leadership. He stated that “leadership is the ability to get something done, by someone else, because he wants to do it.†A good leader creates an environment within which their people prosper and achieve a buy-in to the vision and support provided by the leader.

Even though this column is about administration and management, it is important to define and delimit the breadth of these concepts. They are part of an overall leader/administrator dichotomy. That must be the understood.

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