Leadership: Some Classic Thoughts

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...


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The first book is The Leadership Lessons of Jesus and the second is More Leadership Lessons of Jesus. As is my way, I will leave no stone unturned when it comes to my search for a better way of doing leadership training and writing. I was familiar with Briner's work, having read The Management Methods of Jesus, at the urging of my pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Freehold, NJ, back in 1997. It helped me through a particularly tough time in my life.

I always use these sorts of sources with a certain amount of care, as there appears to be a growing school of thought within the fire service that tells us that we are in control of our own destiny. There are people out there who will tell you that if you are tough enough, self-sufficient enough and brave enough, you can do anything. I look at this in a different light. It is my belief that there is more help available to us than any of us can imagine.

Let me return to a quotation that I have used a number of times in my writing and speaking career. It expresses my views on the interrelationships that lie between us all. These words come from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, written by John Donne (1572-1631) in 1624. They read as follows:

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

My interpretation of this is quite simple. We are all dependent, one upon the other, for each aspect of what we do. Does it not seem like Donne was making the case for cooperation on the grand scale? I have used this concept of cooperative thinking as the basis for a great deal of what I do in the many aspects of my life. Whether in my service to the organizations on behalf of whom I labor, or in the way that I believe organizations should operate, I look to cooperation as the cornerstone of how we operate. My service as a band member has taught me a great deal about the need to blend in for the good of the organization. A band is the sum of the talents of the many, blended according to the will of the leader.

Those of you who know me personally are well aware of the fact that I do not shy away from controversial positions. The world of firefighting seems to prize the rugged individual who walks through flames to get the job done. We teach teamwork, but heap heavy praise on the singular hero. These are the people who sincerely believe that the toughest firefighter deserves to become the fire chief. And as we are told, tough guys are the servants of no one. Every knee shall bow at the mention of their names.

In this world of toughness, my style of concerned and caring leadership takes a hit from the tough guys. Tough-guy leaders are not servants of anyone or anything. They yell orders and make people do things. And if something goes wrong, it is because the people following the tough-guy leader just don't know how to follow his or her brilliant orders. I worked for people like this, and they were the genesis of my search for a better way of doing things.

Criticism of my methods doesn't stop me at all. In fact, it motivates me to work harder and better hone my arguments. I have been swimming upstream for a long time. It serves to stimulate me for newer, bigger and better ways of doing business. Think back to that old homily, "You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar." That is one way of doing business that I admire.

Let us take a look at some of the gems of leadership wisdom that Briner and Prichard have shared with us. It is their contention that people are called to positions of leadership. That makes sense when you think about it. You have to make a conscious effort to move upward in any organization. Whether the act involves gathering a great deal of knowledge and passing a test or gathering a great deal of political support, an affirmative action must be taken. Unfortunately, the call is only one part of the complex interaction of factors required to become a leader.