Leadership: Ten More Commandments

I offer the list to you as someone who has learned, often at the school of hard knocks, to benefit from looking at things with an adjusted perspective.

This month's column will add to that familiar list of actions to either be accomplished or avoided in order to lead a righteous life. These additions, however, are directed at those of you in formal leadership positions within the fire service. Whether you are a company officer or chief of the department; whether your organization is big or small, career or volunteer, urban or rural; whether you're in the early stage or the twilight of your career, these guidelines are suggested as ways for you to be more successful in your job. As always, your opinions are welcome and may be submitted via e-mail through Firehouse.com.

I offer the list to you as someone who has learned, often at the school of hard knocks, to benefit from looking at things with an adjusted perspective. I have attached one or two of my favorite quotes, where applicable, to summarize the thought in better words than my own.


1. Improve your ability to communicate.

2. Decide when a decision is required. In our job, and especially under emergency conditions, we frequently find ourselves under the gun to act without the benefit of having enough information. We don't always have the luxury of being able to study and analyze something before having to commit to a course of action. But the great thing about our line of work and the people in it is that, more often than not, the decision made is the correct one. If not, a little creative tweaking on the fly is usually sufficient.

Henri-Frederic Arniel said, "The man who insists on seeing with perfect clarity before he decides never decides." We need to learn to minimize the risk and maximize the opportunity for success by streamlining the decision-making process, and by exercising good judgment based on our own experience and that institutionalized by others in our field.

3. Upgrade when the technology is outmoded. A friend of mine, who is a retired U.S. Army colonel, likes to say, "The army got rid of the cavalry when it discovered it had more horses' asses than horses." That's a fairly rough way to say it, but I can't express it any better. We need to occasionally re-examine the way we operate and then, every once in a while, we need to turn to a better way. Ron Coleman defines tradition as "Anything we keep on doing after we've forgotten the original reason for doing it." Now, I'm all for tradition. I hold dear many of the traditional values of the fire service. But all I'm saying here is that when a new and better way emerges, and our only reason for not embracing it is because "we've never done it before," then it's time to mechanize the cavalry, wouldn't you say?

4. Dance your own steps to your own tune. As a leader, you are a unique individual. Your style is an eclectic collection of all the influences others have had on your life. You have experienced, witnessed, heard about, read about, laughed about, cried about, studied, avoided, repeated, and chronicled an encyclopedia of events that, once synergized, define how you see the world. Go ahead and share that with the rest of us. You'll be surprised at how quickly others will adapt your style into their own collection. Just as no two of us share the same DNA or fingerprints, our leadership style will never exactly parallel someone else's. That's a good thing.

5. Embrace what you know to be right. In The West Point Way of Leadership, author Larry Donnithorne writes, "People [who] claim they see no payoff from moral behavior?are like Scrooge bragging about not having to buy Christmas presents because he has no friends." To follow up a bit on item #4 above, your sense of ethics has been determined by your family, your church, your schools, your friends, and your experiences. Publicize your feelings about what's right and what's wrong. Letting people know where you stand is critical in establishing a vision for yourself and your organization. Rolling Thunder, a Shoshone medicine man, wrote, "Scientists will eventually discover what pagans have known all along." It seems to me that the longer I live, the more truthful that statement becomes.

This content continues onto the next page...