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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Dvir and a team of researchers worked to study the emphasis on follower development. They based their work on the research of Burns in the watershed text, Leadership. They looked at such aspects of follower development as motivation, morality and empowerment. The research team worked with infantry officers in the Israeli Army. They created a series field experiments that randomly assigned groups to leadership tasks. A series of experimental groups received transformational leadership training. A control group received routine leadership training. Their results showed a better level of group performance for those members who were assigned to the experimental groups.

Support for this position with regard to transformational leadership can be found in a number of other places. Research findings indicate that transformational leadership training enhanced the performance of those teams led by individuals that had been so trained. This would suggest that a style of leadership is created that forms up around the individuals being supervised in a given situation.

My research showed me that a better leadership interaction comes in those cases where the actions of the leader and those being led come together to form something greater than the sum of the individual actions. Their hypothesis that a symbiotic relationship can occur between leader and follower holds great hope for its use within the fire service.

The following attributes of transformational leadership should be blended into the concept of leadership in the fire service, which is the primary focus of this research effort:

  • Leaders must assess the relative worth of the individuals that make up their team.

  • Transactional leaders must know and understand the needs of their organization.

  • Transactional leaders must know and understand the needs of their people.

  • Transactional leaders must possess the skills to create an environment wherein there is a high degree of correlation between the needs of the organization and the needs of the organizational members.

In the world of transformational leadership, the object is to shape jobs to the people. I hope that I have laid out the case for supporting your people. The job for which you are responsible must be completed. I am suggesting that the work product will be much better if you bring your people into the process and allow them to help in planning and executing the tasks at hand. My suggestion to you is quite simple: Embrace your people and treat each as an individual.

Harry R. Carter will present ?21st Century Leadership? at Firehouse Expo 2004 in Baltimore, July 13-18.


Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., MIFireE, is a Firehouse? contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is a former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). Dr. Carter is an associate professor at Mercer County Community College and a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. A fire commissioner 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 a Member of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain (MIFireE). You can contact him through his website at Dr.Carter@HarryCarter.com.