Fire Politics: 15 Lessons in Leadership From the U.S. Senate Floor

A speech was given on the floor of the U.S. Senate in late January that provided interesting insight into the leadership beliefs of a particular outgoing senator. He was leaving office after 28 years in the Senate. The speech was 50 minutes long, but...


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10. Politics in our nation faces three challenges – lack of respect, the corrupting influence of money and disregard for fact. Political leadership in our country has been significantly polarized for the past several years. We know what contributes to the polarization and should show the courage and commitment to overcome the barriers. Those who choose to be part of the political process should act in a way that doesn’t corrupt political institutions.

11. Leadership must be by example. For many years, I’ve discussed what I refer to as the “Rites of Passage of Leadership.” Leading by example is paramount among them. Do as I say, not as I do, doesn’t work. It never has and never will.

12. Relationships matter. Leaders solve day-to-day problems with policies and procedures, but they solve the really big ones through relationships. Relationships add to, or distract from, the effectiveness of leaders throughout society.

13. Diversity strengthens us. Diversity in any group or team tends to make their work and their outcomes more effective. As people, we need to be considerate of each other, discrete in the things we say and do to each other, acceptant of the differences within us and stress the importance of unity in the group or team.

14. Youth shouldn’t stop us from sharing our voice or listening to others. Leaders should encourage the participation of the entire work group and take advantage of what they can offer, no matter how new or senior they may be in the group. Neither end of the seniority spectrum has all the answers. They must all be willing to listen to each other to make the group most effective.

15: Listening is what matters most. Leaders all have two ears and one mouth for a reason. It can often be helpful to listen twice as much as we talk.

The U.S. senator I was referring to is now the secretary of state – John Kerry. No matter what our own political affiliation or beliefs may be, these concepts could relate to all leaders, including those in the fire service. History tells us that over time, it’s usually more important to be effective than right, and sometimes we try way too hard to be right. These 15 leadership concepts may be particularly useful to those in the fire service who get involved as leaders in non-partisan politics at any level of government. n