Leadership in modern America is under siege. Private industry is so focused on making money that leadership skills have been distorted to achieve the new "goals". Public service is so focused on saving money that many fire departments "leaders" are willing to reduce service levels well below accepted norms. The result is a void in the leadership hierarchy that is hurting the basic fiber of many fire departments.
What makes a good leader? Can anyone be a leader? Are leaders born or are they made? These questions have been asked for centuries and many answers have been offered. Most times you can recognize a leader when you meet them. They have this magic combination of qualities that people find attractive and want to be around. I have found that there are eight elements of effective leadership, or eight qualities that a real leader possesses.
Integrity is the first and most important of the elements of leadership. With integrity you are basically an empty suit (or uniform). Integrity is the little voice inside you that tells you when you are not telling the truth, or taking an action that you know will unjustly hurt someone. We all know someone that is masquerading as a leader and has no integrity. That is the guy that may have great rank or responsibility but is not very respected by his peers or subordinates.
Integrity can be illustrated in the phrase, "Say what you mean and mean what you say". Sounds really simple but it's not always so easy to live by. Try living this phrase for just one day. All day, no matter who you talk to, no matter what the subject, only say what you mean, and mean it. A true leader should have little trouble with this assignment.
Initiative is the second element of leadership. Nothing happens in any organization, public or private without someone taking the initiative and getting things going. A real leader will be the one that gets the ball rolling. Remember going over to your buddies house to help him put a new roof or to clean up after a block party. Who was the guy that interrupted the coffee break and said, "let's go, let's get this done". He was the leader. He may not have even been the guy that you thought was the leader that day but he was the leader. It works the same way down at the firehouse. Those with initiative are bound to rise to positions of leadership. Don't confuse this with being the boss or supervisor. Many times the boss is just that, the boss, but the real leader is one of the other people in the group.
Often, there is more than one leader. A BIG leader at the top of the organization, making policy and generally guiding the organization through the entire world, and a local leader, down in the trenches with the workers. Like the chief of department leading the entire department and the lieutenant leading the firefighters at the firehouse. Whichever you are you will need a barrel full of initiative to get and keep your people going.
Innovation is a mandatory element of fire service leadership because of the nature of the work that we do. Each and every situation we face is different. We could even have a fire in the exact same spot, in an exactly similar building at exactly the same time, as the fire we had 24 hours earlier, and the operation would in some way be different. It could even be dramatically different.
The reasons are many but I will name a few. We may have a different crew respond to the second fire.Firefighters and officers with a different set of previous experiences and training that might take different actions with similar conditions. The weather could be different, causing the fire to spread inside and outside differently.
The units or companies that respond could be from another firehouse or even department, resulting in apparatus and tactical differences. The point is that to be an effective leader you must learn to innovate and react to various conditions that you may be faced with. Each and every situation you come up against will require that you innovate for the set of conditions and problems presented.