The Fire Service Food Chain: Leading from the Middle

John G. Dahms, Richard A. Mueller and David F. Peterson continue their discussion on leadership skills and abilities that are essential at every level of organization.


Part 2 -- A Deputy Chief's View This is the second installment in a series of articles that examine fire service leadership responsibilities from the perspectives of a fire chief, a line chief and a company officer. This leadership food chain plays an important role in serving our internal and...


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Fostering fairness is not difficult; it is mostly about listening to your co-workers and appreciating their individual opinions and perspectives. An excellent example of being fair is to apply the F.A.I.R. approach, as presented in the video "Just Be F.A.I.R. -- A Practical Approach to Diversity in the Workplace" (Vision Point). F.A.I.R. stands for Feedback, Assistance, Inclusion and Respect. This approach can be used as a tool to build more positive, productive relationships at work that will help employees make better decisions that impact overall productivity of the organization. An effective leader would do well to identify and implement the four elements of the F.A.I.R. approach.

The caring component involves acting on their opinions and perspectives. This does not mean instituting every suggestion from all of your employees, but simply taking the time to listen to their opinions and suggestions. Not all suggestions and opinions will be the "right thing" or "right ones" and trying to please everyone ends up pleasing no one and eventually destroys your credibility as an officer. Caring is about engaging in real, honest-to-goodness conversations with your co-workers about their opinions, attitudes and behavior. When employee behavior matches the organization's expectation, it should be recognized, which will ultimately lead to higher levels of trust and respect, and that should be your ultimate goal.

What Will Really Matter?

In closing, it is good to remember that your opportunity to lead in the fire service is finite and will one day come to an end. So what will really matter? In his book What Will Matter (Josephson Institute of Ethics, 2003), Michael Josephson writes, "What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example." Because leadership from the line chief's position is so visible to all in your organization, it presents little room for leadership lapses.

While leadership is not always easy, it can be very rewarding. Developing, maintaining and building strong relationships is the first step to being the type of leader who inspires respect while getting the job of firefighting accomplished through others who feel like they're a part of a winning team.

JOHN G. DAHMS is the fire chief of the City of Brookfield, WI, Fire Department and a veteran firefighter of 30 years. He has a master's degree in management from Cardinal Stritch University and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP). RICHARD A. MUELLER is a battalion chief with the City of West Allis, WI, Fire Department and a fire service veteran of 30 years. He has a bachelor of science degree in fire service management from Southern Illinois University. DAVID F. PETERSON is a lieutenant with the City of Madison, WI, Fire Department and a fire service veteran of 29 years. He is completing a bachelor of science degree in fire service management from SIU and is enrolled in the EFOP. All three authors are veteran fire service instructors and are members of The Wisconsin FLAME Group LLC ("Fire Leadership And Management Excellence").