Flagpole Leadership

Each of you should consider finding a quiet place where you can gather your thoughts in new ways. Each of us needs to take a daily time-out from the trials and tribulations of the world. My front porch is that place in my world. Like I may have...


Each of you should consider finding a quiet place where you can gather your thoughts in new ways. Each of us needs to take a daily time-out from the trials and tribulations of the world. My front porch is that place in my world. Like I may have mentioned to you on more than one occasion, my front porch is a place of peace and security for me.

It is my personal retreat from the worries of the world. It is also a place where my thoughts come together in seemingly new combinations. It is a place where cigar smoke is allowed. It is also a place where I am free to think and dream. It is a place where ideas suddenly seem to pop into my head.

So it was once again for me the other evening. As the warm breezes washed over me, I sat out on the front porch pondering the ways and problems of the world. What were the notions that caused me to pause and ponder the fortunes of the world? Many were the issues which had the wheels of my brain spinning.

There was the matter of illness among my friends; mainly cancer attacking a buddy. Then there was the continuing problem with my wife's medical issues. There was also the death of a buddy at the young age of 54, not to mention the wars which are sapping our country's strength and squandering our scarce resources chasing shadows across the sky. What a passel of problems of ponder.

It was in the midst of these weighty ruminations that I gazed across the street and saw the American Flag waving proudly from the staff in front of Clayton's Funeral Home. Perhaps it was the way of Mother Nature, but the shifting breezes caused the flag to change its course in mid air with great frequency.

One minute the flag was hanging limply, while in the wink of an eye it sprang to life from the east. Then it shifted to the north and then to the northeast. As I pondered the forces of nature which were moving our national emblem in the night sky, I began to contemplate the forces which are at work in the world of our fire service.

As usual, my ideas started at the top. My worries about leadership have driven my research over the past several years. What sorts of people are rising to command our fire departments? What are their strong points? What are their weaknesses? Are our leaders fixed and resolute? Do they stay the course and fight for what is right, or do they shift in the wind much like the flag which I studied across the street from my home?

My thoughts turned toward the many people I have met in my four decades of fire and emergency medical service. What made some leaders good and others not so good? Then it came to me in a flash. Far too many of the people leading fire departments in our nation really are like the flag across the street from my home.

They change their approaches and actions according to the shifting dictates of the governmental and organizational winds in their community. It is my belief that if we are to grow and prosper as a fire service, we need to do something about upgrading the quality and consistency of our leaders. But then how would we teach a course in staying the course? Do you see my problem?

We are, I believe, facing a serious challenge in this regard. Far too many of the people I see as leaders in the world around me are task-oriented, rather than people oriented. A great deal of emphasis is being placed on the "how-to tasks" of our profession/vocation/avocation.

"If only our people knew more about terrorism", they will say, "think of how much better off we would be". So says a growing segment of our field. Others tell us that we must stress the basics, or else we will continue to kill people in the line of duty. You cannot disagree with that thought, but it is only good as far as it goes. Another group among us speaks of the need to change the culture of our fire service.

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