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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Many people feel that desire is the sole requirement for being a leader. Their motto seems to be, "I want it, therefore I should get it." My corollary to this is quite simple. Even if you wish to become a leader for all of the wrong reasons, you need to gather a certain amount of knowledge into your being and psyche. If you just want the white helmet and the red car, there are a number of things that you need to know.

Many times, people forget to gather the requisite knowledge that they will need to do the job they have targeted. I believe there is a minimum of technical and human relations knowledge that you need to gather and absorb. You will also be required to share knowledge periodically. This means that you will need to know a bit about being an instructor. Those who do not bother to prepare for a position of leadership are at the root of most of our problems.

These shallow sorts of leaders have no concept of their responsibility to train, prepare and take care of the troops. They gather an inner circle of associates who mirror their views and proceed to run roughshod over people whom they consider unworthy of associating with them and their stalwarts. When things go wrong, as they so often do, the first words out of their mouths are along the lines of, "What's the matter, can't you people follow orders?"

Sadly, leaders like this fail to consider that the orders they hurl about may be incorrect or inappropriate. They fail to recognize that their lack of technical expertise is the root cause of issuing an order that is incorrect to start with, and stands no chance of success. No, they firmly believe that it's the fault of the dummies with whom they are forced to work, because those people can't do what they are told. And these leaders can be counted on to turn on their inner circle when it comes down to a me-or-them choice. Loyalty is not a strong suit among selfish leaders.

Consider the difference between this sort of leadership group and one in which the leaders choose to surround themselves with people who will think and challenge their views. Yes men (and women) are a plague upon the earth, but truly challenging sidekicks are a blessing. And wise leaders select their associates and ask them personally to join with them. There are no messages between intermediaries. There is a face-to-face meeting when the leader specifically asks a person to join the team.

Another serious problem with selfish leaders is their inward focus. It is always, "me, me, me" or "us, us, us." People of this ilk usually expect the public to fall all over themselves with hosannas and hallelujahs just because the fire department has answered a car fire call in their driveway. They expect a municipal commendation for taking in an alarm malfunction.

These are the sort of people who see the fire department as the center of the universe, with all other activities falling in line behind them for praise and resources. These people have streets named after them: "ONE-WAY." These are also the same people who roll down the road at 3 A.M., sirens screaming and air horns blaring, to a garbage can fire, then wonder why the public complains about the noise.

These are the same people who do nothing in the public education arena, then wonder why no one shows up at their biweekly bingo game. They hide behind the closed doors of their fire station and grumble about how the public doesn't support their budget. Rather than light a single candle, they choose to curse the darkness of their selfish little world.

I was recently encouraged by a younger firefighter of my acquaintance. He made a comment to me about some problems he saw in his fire department. He was upset by the damage that cliques seemed to be causing. He had a number of concerns about the fact that certain families seemed to wield an undue amount of power. He then asked if he could borrow a number of books from my library. He wanted to see if he could make any sense of what was happening. Needless to say, I was glad to share my views and my books. Maybe he will be the one to make a difference in a few years.

Can you see what I am saying though? Doesn't it all seem to go right back to the quotation at the beginning of this article? Don't complain about how unfair life is, go out and make a difference. Heaven knows, I'll keep trying.