The Good Leader Is Decisive

Over the past many months, I have written a great deal about the concept of leadership. This was a conscious decision on my part. I have seen a growing number of instances where problems came about in fire departments because people were simply not good...


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Truly effective leaders make this decision-making process a part of their soul. One of the worst leaders I ever worked with couldn't make a decision to save his life (or the lives of his men, I might point out). I learned early on that if you want to be an effective leader, you had best make your mind up that there is one thing that you will have to do well, and often. You are going to have to learn how to make a decision. Decisions are the things that leaders get paid to do - whether that remuneration comes in the form of salary dollars or the personal satisfaction of a job done well.

And you certainly cannot make a decision if you are too tied up in the mechanisms of making that decision. You've got to make decisions, not study things to death. Get off the dime and make some decisions.

A good way to judge how effective a leader is can come from a review of that person's ability to make decisions on a daily basis. Are they made in a timely fashion? Are too many decisions being made by that person when they could have been made by that person's subordinates? That's right, gang, not every decision has to be made by the leader. It is the mark of a good leader that he or she lets others make decisions at the lowest appropriate level possible.

It is my goal to provide you with a good decision-making system. I am going to pat you on the head, then send you out into that cold, cruel world. You're going to learn about making decisions in that tried and true way. You are going to be forced to make one hard decision at a time.

You must remember that a decision is the conscious choice of an action in response to a problem, based on a given set of circumstances. So what are we saying? To make a decision requires making a choice within a real-world scenario. Research tells us that two basic types of decisions exist throughout society:

  • Programmed.
  • Non-programmed.

A programmed decision is one that you expect to make on a regular basis. These are the routine decisions that are the bread and butter of your operation. You will have to repeatedly respond to box alarms, order fuel oil for the fire station and deliver replacement equipment. These are the types of decisions that should be covered by standard operating procedures (SOPs) or general operating guidelines (GOGs). The act of creating pre-made policy decisions frees up your mind for the non-programmed, or exceptional, decisions which will require the whole of your decision-making time and talents.

Decisions are a means to an end and not an end in and unto themselves. Some people get so caught up in the glory of the mechanics of decision-making that they never get around to actually making the decision. They keep studying things and they are continually weighing their options.

Let me offer a thought to you: The best solutions come to people who have taken the time to become familiar with the goals, objectives and policies of their fire department.

How can you make a good decision when you are not aware of what an acceptable decision might look like? This is a concept that is similar to boxers learning the size of the ring in which they are fighting. You cannot fight a 1,000-square-foot battle in a 100-square-foot ring. There is a lot less room for dancing around - and a far greater chance of getting smacked in the face by your opponent.

I want to stress that you must know the parameters of your organizational playing field. And since decisions do not come in a vacuum, you must know what your department is all about and the goals for which it is supposed to strive. You can then create solutions that are logical and acceptable within your organization.

Problems can arise when a fire department has not taken the time to properly develop its organizational structure. If there is no vision, and if there are no goals or objectives or policies, you have a serious problem. You will be making decisions devoid of any organizational road map. That is why I covered the concept of policies in an earlier column. It is tough to make good decisions in an atmosphere of ignorance and bad policies.

You will probably still be required to make decisions anyway, so you will have to collect and analyze data from the organization and the world around you. In data analysis, you should:

  • Look at the world around you.
  • Review the hard data of the organization you work for.
  • Or choose to do both.