I was reading something recently that described important characteristics in leaders. As I read along, the author focused on such things as the ability to delegate, time management, writing skills and accessibility.
All of these are important supervisory and management practices, but they may not be critical leadership characteristics in and of themselves. Although they are each important to supervisory or managerial success, there is more to consider when measuring leadership. Strong leadership is a key issue in basic supervision as well as in the management of processes, programs and people.
Lead By Example
If we revisit leadership concepts developed as long ago as 600 B.C. in China, Lao Tsu professed that one leads primarily by example. This "leading by example" concept is stressed in every leadership class or book that we have ever been exposed to. Yet, for some reason, the inability or unwillingness to put this concept into practice undermines a leader's effectiveness as much as any other factor. The leaders, through the inability to lead themselves and set an appropriate example, are eventually resisted and/or resented by the group.
One aspect of leadership involves modeling the behaviors and expectations we have of others … as best we can … every day. Otherwise, the message we send is as clear as the old cliche, "Do as I say, not as I do." We, as leaders, are always teaching others by our example … good or bad. That is an unavoidable reality.
Respectful Treatment Of Others & Mutual Trust
A basic concept of developing individuals or groups in an organization involves the way the leaders act out the level of respect (or lack of respect) they feel towards those they are in place to lead. We were all human beings before anyone was given rank or organizational status. It is unacceptable when people act in a way that is disrespectful toward each other in any setting. Leaders can expect to receive respect only when they give it to others first.
As we know, mutual trust is a key to teamwork. We can make the concept of effective leadership as simple or as complex as we wish. Let me say it simply. People do not trust leaders they do not respect, and they do not respect leaders who are disrespectful toward them. This simple fact is the "rite of passage" to everything else about leading others. People cannot be inspired by someone to behave or perform in a certain way unless they feel a sense of mutual respect … which leads to mutual trust. Both are critical to any positive relationship.
Commitment To The Mission
Leaders who excel also possess a passionate commitment to the mission of the organization. Being able to clearly define what the leader expects of others, and then communicate a vision of current and future requirements to effectively meet the mission, are abilities that set exceptional leaders apart from others. Having a lot of agendas that are separate and apart from the mission is sure to dilute the leader's effectiveness.
A friend of mine told me that the most important attributes from which to measure leadership effectiveness are the leader's beliefs relating to:
- Fairness in decision-making.
- Loyalty to others.
- Equality within the group.
- Love of people.
- A sense of joy from their work.
These are words of wisdom. When combined with other attributes previously mentioned, they describe a pretty positive and effective starting point for leadership. Being assigned the formal position of supervisor or manager does not make a person a leader. I witness acts of exceptional leadership every day within the Mesa Fire Department and other organizations with which I interact. Many are performed by people with no formal position of rank or hierarchical status in the system.
I wish I could say that it's more complicated than this, but it isn't. Nobody ever masters all of the variables involved in excellent leadership. Doing the things discussed in this article, day in and day out, is very, very difficult, but I know we are up to the challenge.
Keep getting better. Become someone's leadership model.
Dennis Compton, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire chief in Mesa, AZ. He previously served as assistant fire chief in the Phoenix Fire Department. During a career that spans almost 30 years, Compton has been involved in many fire service and civic organizations, and is a well-known speaker and author. He is the immediate past chair of the Executive Board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) and is the vice chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee.