A Good Leader Is Neither A Lazy Bones Nor a Roadblock

In this, my latest discussion of the concept of leadership, I am going to attempt to reach out and touch you. But it is not my intention to do it in the fine old, classic touchy-feely way of the telephone commercials of my youth. It is my intention to...


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A critical element of my modus operandi that always seemed to work well with the new troops was my conscious effort to reach out to them. I always approached each new class with a proactive attempt to share my love of knowledge and learning, as well as my love of the fire service with them. I really did not like those times when we were forced to treat the new people harshly. I never enjoyed feeling uncomfortable, and I worked not to make the troops feel uncomfortable.

However, I did work for a number of people who dearly loved to say the word "no" as often as they possibly could. They felt that things had gone along well for them during their career, and that there was no real need to change anything. These were the people who believed in Ivy Tower Management. This is a perverted style of leadership wherein any idea not dreamed up by the dwellers in the Ivy Tower of fire headquarters was forced to die a horrible and sometimes agonizing and public death. Further, many great ideas died on the vine, because someone in the front office was just a little too lazy to do anything about these potential changes. A phone call or a report was too much to ask of them.

It has been my personal experience that the number of unhappy firefighters in any department is directly proportional to the number of lazy chiefs in the organization. I have seen people lose vacations with their families after chiefs failed to submit requests for vacation changes because they were "too busy." Which is to say they were actually too selfish or slothful to take the time to take care of their troops.

I personally worried a great deal about my troops when I was a battalion or a division commander. My theory of servant leadership did not allow for me to serve anyone other than the people who worked with me. I can remember getting into a heated argument with a former president of the National Fire Protection Association over my view of the world. He said that I cared more about the people than the organization. And of course I argued back that without the work of dedicated, motivated people, you might as well not have an association. We ended up agreeing to disagree.

I learned early on that my success depended upon the labors of some really fine people, and that your folks can make you look really bad or really good. Make it hard for the troops, and they will make it real hard for you.

I have studied a number of books that have absolutely nothing to do with firefighting, but have everything to do with creating a successful firefighting team.

The first is The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli. This deals with the serious problems caused by people who attempt to play games with other people. I first read it in back in the 1960s as a freshman in college. I have returned to it over the years in an attempt to understand the political world around me. While the author is attempting to explain how kingdoms are controlled, I saw a great deal of the real world in his words.

Think about the fire chief who creates a team of insiders (sometimes called the A-team). All good ideas come from the insiders. All bad ideas come from the swine who are too stupid to be a part of the A-team. This is a sure way to split your department right down the middle. You will have a few people who love you and a lot of people who will hate you. These are the types of leaders who are a real roadblock to success.

Another text that I would encourage you to read is The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. The author of this classic shares lessons he learned during the battles of his ancient time. One of his quotations speaks to the concept of never making unnecessary enemies. It was his thought that you will make sufficient enemies as you go through life. He suggested that you didn't need to make any more than were absolutely necessary. But there are those people who live to anger everyone around them.

I want you to understand the deep and abiding impact that a leader can have upon every aspect of the lives of his or her people. Many of your decisions will be truly of a life or death nature.

You must understand that inaction or ignorance of their personal well being can be just as devastating to a member of your fire department as an actual negative act, action or activity. You are expected to lead when you are in a position of leadership. Get out in front of the troops, set the tone and set the pace. It can surely lead to great things.