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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There is a great deal of power available in the world. Some of it lies within your place of employment; after all, someone has to be the boss. Some of it lies within the confines of organizations, such as your fire department. Some of it lies within the realm of government.

Power in and of itself is not a bad thing. Gibson, Ivancevich and Donnelly (2000) define power as, "the ability to get someone to do something you want done or to make things happen the way you want them to happen." It sounds innocuous, but is it? By its very nature, power infers control. It has been my experience that many people are offended by the concept of control in a free society. However, power is a necessary element in the maintenance of stability in an organization. Some people exercise power and others operate within the environment created by that use of power.

When properly employed, power brings people together in a harmonious union. When improperly gained and poorly exercised, power can cripple an organization. Many have written to me about the problems their organizations are facing because of people who want power, but have no idea about what it is and how it should be properly exercised. They want, and they want, and they want some more power. These same people also think that all they must do to get the job done is bark orders. Lots of sound and fury are generated, but the results are poor. Their egos refuse to let them see the error of their ways.

As you all know, people make an organization what it is. They can show up, put in their time and leave, or they can be persuaded to buy into the organization and do great things. The best results usually are generated by people who are brought onto the team, and empowered to create an environment built on personal success and initiative.

Let me stress to you that power within any enterprise is a critical commodity. Power is a two-edged sword. It can be a force for great good, or it can be a force for evil and repression. It should not be pursued or exercised in a frivolous or arbitrary manner. It should not be pursued as a goal in and of itself. Neither should it be abused for self-glorification and other selfish purposes.

Far too many in our world make the pursuit of power the sole focus of their careers. They lust after power in the way that I once lusted after ice cream, donuts and cake. Trust me, my friends, the results in both cases are less than desirable. Frankly, I am astounded at a number of things that we are seeing in our nation. Vindictive fire chiefs are truly a force for organized evil. If you are a leader, do not make yourself the locus of fire department greatness. Make your people the center of what is good and just. Do all that is within your power to make their lives better.

Adopt a caring posture toward the people placed in your command. Ask the following question frequently: How can I help you? You will be surprised at the results, and your people will love and respect you. Check your ego at the door. You will be amazed at the great things that will occur.


Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE is a Firehouse contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is the former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Currently the chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners for Howell Township District 2, he retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. He also served as chief of training and commander of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. Dr. Carter is secretary of the United States Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain (MIFireE). You can contact him through at drharrycarter@optonline.net.