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I urge all people riding the right-front seat to remember that their followers work with them and not for them. This is a simple grammatical distinction that can pay great dividends to people in leadership roles. When the troops are in there taking a beating, you will not see a true leader sucking down a cup of coffee at the fireground rehab center or warming up in an out-of-the-way spot. You lead from the front or you don’t lead at all.
Leadership doesn’t just happen
A good leader is also diplomatic and tactful in dealing with people both within and outside the fire department. Mutual trust is important in the fire service, because we must all depend on one another to perform as a team in threatening situations and environments.
People depend on their leaders and the leaders most certainly depend on their people. Conscientious fire service leaders exercise an appropriate level of concern for the safety of everyone with whom they work. Each person is unique. While some people need a great deal of supervision, direction and guidance, others do not. Learn how your people tick so you can provide the proper level of individualized supervision and leadership to each.
True leaders encourage group participation in the planning phases of their work and provide each person with as much responsibility as they believe their troops can handle. It is critical for leaders to remember that one of their primary responsibilities to their people and their organizations is the development of a corps of well-trained, dedicated and motivated followers. To ignore this role is to guarantee failure within your fire department.
Maintaining the proper balance between authority and democracy requires a wisdom that does not come easily to some people. However, the effort it takes to provide that balance will be rewarded by the high success rates exhibited by people working under such leaders.
If you wish to become a leader, put forth the effort to learn as much as you can about what leaders are and what they do. If you are a leader, work to be the best you can be. Leadership doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it.
HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. He is chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Howell Township Fire District 2 and retired from the Newark Fire Department as a battalion commander. Dr. Carter has been a member of the Adelphia Fire Company since 1971, serving as chief in 1991. He is a life member and past president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and life member of the National Fire Protection Association. He is vice president of the Institution of Fire Engineers-USAmerica. Dr. Carter holds a Ph.D. in organization and management from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN.