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Over the past year or so, I have written a great deal about the concept of leadership. My research, as supplemented by interactions with many of my e-mail correspondents, has created an increased awareness that gives me cause for concern: We have a lot of really serious problems and most of them stem in some way from a lack of effective leadership or the presence of bad leadership.
Sad to say, many parts of the fire service have absolutely no idea about the true nature of leadership. Worse yet, the bad leaders are cloning themselves by surrounding themselves with people who mirror, and parrot, their views.
As you might imagine, I do a great deal of reading. I am also blessed with a number of frequent correspondents. I truly enjoy the give and take of ideas that flow back and forth on the Internet. A recent e-mail communication from Chief John Buckman of the German Township, IN, Fire Department gave me a great deal to ponder within the confines of my office.
Part of John's message was a quotation from William J.H. Boetcker regarding leadership. These words came from an e-mail motivational document, the Positive People Power newsletter. John is kind enough to share it with a number of us each week. The sentiment reads as follows:
"The man who is worthy of being 'a leader of men' will never complain about the stupidity of his helpers, the ingratitude of mankind nor the inappreciation of the public. They're all a part of the game of life. To meet them and overcome them and not to go down before them in disgust, discouragement or defeat - that is the final proof of power."
It would appear that Boetcker is alluding to the fact that we must each work to the fullest extent of our own potential. It would also appear that he is suggesting that it is critical for us to accept the responsibility for our actions, whether the result is positive or negative. The apportionment of blame is a worthless waste of our valuable time and energy.
I have long considered people in positions of leadership to be servants of those entrusted to their care. That is how I attempted to live my life, anyway. There were successes and there were some striking failures. But there was always a caring and concern for the people entrusted to my care.
Unfortunately, I have seen far too many people whose sole reason for becoming leaders was to feather their own individual nests. This behavior begins to create an aura of organizational selfishness. It can lead to people doing only what they are required to do.
It has been my experience that too many people seek to place the blame for their failures on other people. They fail to recognize their shortcomings and, instead, lash out at those around them. Unfortunately, I have even heard those words spring forth from my own lips. The reason for this is quite simple: Placing blame on someone else is much easier than owning up to your own shortcomings. I wish to assure you that I haven't done this in quite some time.
I discovered a long time ago that one good way to stay out ahead of the learning curve is to read a great deal. Do not limit yourself to just technical, or just behavioral literature. Search far and wide for new approaches to old problems. The answer to your fire service problem may be in Popular Mechanics, Harper's Bazaar or Time magazines. You never know where inspiring thoughts will spring from.
Having a fairly extensive personal library that includes magazines dating back to the 1920s has allowed me to develop a fairly unique perspective. Can you imagine how many of today's problems mirror things that went wrong in the 1930s? More than you might think. One of my recent research forays came as a result of a recommendation from an associate in the Midwest. He suggested that I needed to look at two recent books published by Bob Briner and Dr. Ray Prichard.