Where Do Our Leaders Come From? Where Indeed?

During last year’s war in Iraq, we heard much about bravery and heroes. Whether you agree with the premise behind the war or not, you must agree with me that some really brave men and women died there doing what they believed in. They gave their all...


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During last year’s war in Iraq, we heard much about bravery and heroes. Whether you agree with the premise behind the war or not, you must agree with me that some really brave men and women died there doing what they believed in. They gave their all when their country asked it of them. That is how wars are won.

Abraham Lincoln stated it best at Gettysburg: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” How true. How appropriate.

We must not take lightly the sacrifice of these people. They were husbands, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. They put down these roles to take up arms and answer their nation’s call to battle. This is something that has occurred many times since the time of Lexington and Concord.

I cannot tell you how many times I heard a talking head on one of the many news networks ask, “Where do we get people such as these?” This, my friends, is a question that has been asked and answered many times through the ages within civilized societies everywhere.

A review of history shows great stories about heroes who emerged at critical times to insure that the job of preserving freedom was done. Every generation has had its share of people who had the strength and courage to step forward when necessary and do the job. There is a school of thought within the literature of the leadership field that speaks to this. A truly different sort of model falls within that theory that has come to be known as Citizen Leadership. A theory exists which suggests that in a free and democratic society leaders are expected to evolve from within. When the time is right, they will be there to do the job.

In Leadership and Democracy (1987), Thomas Cronin speaks to the warring conflicts of freedom and authority. He suggests that there is a dichotomy between the concepts of leadership and democracy. “We love to unload our civic responsibilities on our leaders, yet we dislike – intensely dislike – being bossed around.” This creates a true friction within organizations in a free society.

He goes on to portray a type of leadership that is truly supportive in nature. He speaks of “the view that leadership can be of an enabling, facilitative kind … conceptualized as an engagement among equals.” This is a critical view, in that it speaks to the need for leaders to respect, encourage, and support their followers. Without the support of followers, there can be no leaders.

Think of it. Out of a group of individuals who might be found in a given situation, certain ones will step forward and become the leaders. Others will see these people and value them for who they are and the way in which they lead. It has been my experience that this deep and abiding concern for the follower appears to be the basic component for creating effective citizen leadership. It is the need for equal treatment that differentiates this type of leadership from the others.

The citizen leader evolves of the organization, entity or country. Many accept a leadership role reluctantly. This would appear to be the case in volunteer fire departments, where leaders are elected by their associates to lead them. These leaders are expected to exercise wisdom and restraint. They are expected to become technically proficient. If they are successful, they may remain in the position of leadership. If they are not successful, they are removed from office.

Thus it is with the citizen leader. They must possess a deep and abiding concern for those with whom they travel through the tough times. It is this bond that brings people together during the dirty and dangerous times we have come to understand in both the combat environment and the world of firefighting operations. You have to be willing to lay it all on the line for those with whom you are entering battle. In Fire Service Management (1973), Donald Favreau takes a similar view when he urges leaders to “know your men … look out for their welfare … (and) keep your men informed.”

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