Effective Leaders Check Their Egos at the Door

Each time my teaching duties find me discussing leadership with a fresh crop of eager learners, one question always comes to the fore. During my introduction, each student is asked to think of the best leader for whom he or she has ever worked. Many...


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Each time my teaching duties find me discussing leadership with a fresh crop of eager learners, one question always comes to the fore. During my introduction, each student is asked to think of the best leader for whom he or she has ever worked. Many times, this stimulates a discussion that sets the tone for the class. This is critical in that it allows for a buy-in by the student. They use examples that are relevant to them, plus this lets me guide the discussion based on their experiences and views.

After we discuss the best leader that each student cites, I turn the tables on them by asking each one to think of the worst person they've worked for in the fire service. This frequently leads to a discussion of actions and issues that present a mirror image of those that constitute a good leader. This is to be expected.

Occasionally, a student will jump up and blurt out something along the lines of, "It's the guy's ego. No one can do anything right for him. He thinks he's the beginning and end of all knowledge." I usually simply smile when this sort of outburst occurs. This lets me share some serious, arm-around-the-shoulder sympathy with that person.

There is a treasure trove of memories that I can then share with the student who has started the discussion. If you think about it, some of the most obnoxious people you'll ever meet suffer from ego overload. They have so much ego that it literally bubbles forth from their pores and fills whatever space they may be in.

There is one instance that always comes into my mind at these times. I remember an acquaintance making a comment on one of his college instructors that has stuck with me for a long time. He told me that he was amazed that the students were still able to fit into the classroom along with this instructor and his ego. What a telling comment.

Don't get me wrong. This business of ego can be a force for true good or a trip down the road to unspeakable agony and pain. Let us pause for a moment and discuss why we look to people with whom we have worked as a means of motivating our future actions.

Certain people have just been such an important part of our lives that their good works will live on in your mind as long as you live. Others are remarkable for the pain, misery and confusion that they leave in their wake. Much like a hurricane leaves destruction as its legacy, so too does a really bad person. They seemingly live to make the lives of others difficult. People like this also tend to create poor relationships within and between organizations. In their minds, no one is their equal. They perceive within their minds that they can handle anything and everything. They never need assistance from anyone else.

If the correspondence that arrives in my office in any given week is any indicator of life in the world, really neat fire folks in a number of places truly are suffering. My office has been inundated with messages regarding issues that are adversely impacting fire people.

It has long been my feeling that it is not too much to ask for our leaders to at least be civil toward those people they are privileged to lead. Perhaps my friends could accuse me of being in a time warp, but why is it that far too many of our leaders have forgotten their duty to serve as promoters, encouragers and supporters for their folks? Far too many departments are now performing without a safety net.

When life is lived in a normal manner, there will be moments of great success and satisfaction. There will also be moments of abject sorrow and frustration. That is just the way it is. Some people never learn to understand this. These are the people who lust after power. They want to be in positions of power, but they want to do it without taking the time to pay their dues. They want to be on top of the pyramid so badly that they can taste it. These people will do whatever is necessary to elbow everyone out of the way to reach their goal. They have absolutely no consideration for the feelings of others. You can hear them sitting in their offices chanting, "It's my way or the highway."

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