The Mission or The People? A Leader's Quandary

I come to you this month with yet another look at a complex, continuing problem. Many times over the past several years, I have received e-mail, letters and telephone calls that have dealt with boss-related problems. It would seem to me, as a somewhat...


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I come to you this month with yet another look at a complex, continuing problem. Many times over the past several years, I have received e-mail, letters and telephone calls that have dealt with boss-related problems. It would seem to me, as a somewhat less than dispassionate observer of the passing scene, that boss-related problems are everywhere.

In most instances, it has been my practice to side with the subordinate and roast the boss. I say this because in most cases, the boss is doing something selfish or just plain stupid. However, there is a whole school of thought within the literature of the leadership world that works to bring a balance to these issues.

It?s been my experience that there might well be a better way to discuss the difference between leaders who favor the troops and those who favor the mission. This argument has to do with the orientation of leaders. It also has to do with their education on the way of the chain of command and with the way in which their predecessors inculcated the values of the organization into their psyches. I am referring to the manner in which they were taught to operate within the world of chiefly behaviors. Let me share a few thoughts with you.

In the world of organizational development, design and leadership, a number of different types of leadership are discussed and illustrated. I have spent a great deal of time researching leadership. Thanks to The Leader?s Companion by J. Thomas Wren, a text that has been in my library for a few months, I am able to make valid comparisons among the wide range of competing leadership styles. I identified a wide variety of approaches to teaching and explaining leadership.

However, since this is not an academic research article on the subject, I have selected two different styles whose use can lead to problems in the arena of supervisor-subordinate friction. I say this because they are seemingly opposites and, in this case, opposites do not seem to attract one another. The strengths of one seem to play well against the weaknesses of the other, and vice versa.

In 1966, Robert Hamm set the tone for this discussion when he noted in his book Leadership in the Fire Service, ?Firefighting has become more complex since the ?good old days? and promotion no longer depends upon political influence, seniority, or luck ? With the increase in fire hazards, the demand for greater knowledge in fire fighting operations ? the Fire Service, willing or not, will be forced to provide a new type of leadership ? a more capable fire department officer.?

The development of effective leaders, able to command respect and loyalty as well as function effectively in crisis situations, would appear to be a precursor event to the delivery of safe and efficient firefighting operations. The teams involved need leaders who can motivate those who work for them and coordinate and interface well with those to whom they report. Hamm speaks to this when he says officers should be careful in ?maintaining allegiance to management or administration and by developing a wholesome respect for all fire department officers.?

The fire service is a specialized field that provides a critical emergency service under conditions that are less than optimal. My research suggests that leadership is a critical element in the success of every fire department, although there are those who seem to ignore that fact. This importance is amplified by the nature of the operational environment wherein the activity of fire suppression is performed. If fire department leaders screw up, people can die.

The two differing styles of leadership are the transactional style and the transformational style. In the first case, the mission is the driving force. People have to be bent to achieve the demands of the position. In the transformational mode, the tasks are developed to fit the people being groomed for the positions within the organization. Let?s take a closer look at the two.

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