Riding the Right-Front Seat: "Leadership Landmines"

It is critical for those riding the right-front seat to remember that, above all else, you are in a position of leadership. You can never ignore that if you hope to be successful as a tactical leader in your fire department. In line with that...


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It is critical for those riding the right-front seat to remember that, above all else, you are in a position of leadership. You can never ignore that if you hope to be successful as a tactical leader in your fire department.

In line with that thought, let me share one of the most-often-quoted phrases I have heard during my time in the fire service: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The road to leadership success in the fire service is also paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, that road is also strewn with what I call “leadership landmines” – if we ignore them and their potential impacts, they stand ready to explode in our faces and upset our best efforts at being a good leader. My job is to help you weave your way around these landmines as you travel the road of fire service leadership.

 

Going off the tracks

No one starts out to be a bad leader. Just about everyone I have ever met had as a goal to become the best possible leader. However, as they say, stuff happens and our efforts at effective leadership are frustrated. Sadly, far too many people who start out with the best of intentions end up being sidetracked when they step on one of these landmines. Here are some potential “leadership landmines”:

  • Fatigue
  • Frustration
  • Location
  • “One-way streets”
  • “Expressways”
  • “Antiquarians”
  • “Button-pushers”

This list is far from complete, but it is a good start. The more of these landmines you locate on your operational map, the better and safer will be your journey through the minefield and the better your chances for success as a leader. I assure you that I am dead serious about this list. Each bullet point involves a lesson I learned the hard way.

Let me begin by warning you about the serious negative effects of fatigue. Fatigue is a serious problem because it can sneak up on you. It can lead to a decrease in your ability to use judgment effectively. It may cause you to ignore or rush through certain critical steps in your decision-making process. It can literally short-circuit your thought processes.

Fatigue can be (and usually is) a two-way street. Whatever fatigue is doing to you as the leader, it is having a greater impact on the people working on your behalf. These are the people actually doing the hard work. Some of the stupidest things I ever did as a leader I blame on fatigue.

 

Fatigue’s effects

Force yourself to recognize the effects of fatigue and work to counter them. Some of these effects are:

  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of motivation

There is a real problem here, because it is your thought process which is at the root of this issue. If you fail to address the problems caused by fatigue, you are setting yourself up for all of the bad things that frustration can bring to you and the members of your working team. Frustration can be explained quite simply: You are not getting what you want. Your needs are not being met.

Think about it this way. If you are hungry, food is the cure. Thirst can be met by the use of water and other fluids. Other issues are more complex. You want the fire to go out, but it won’t. You wish the crew on C shift would stop leaving the pumper in disarray. See what I mean?

My late grandmother often told me “patience is a virtue.” It turns out that patience is far more of a virtue than I ever imagined. Let me also offer a bit of hard-earned experience. Never pray for patience, for you will end up facing a new round of frustrating events that will demand that you accept your fate and soldier on. That is, of course, the way to learn to be patient.

 

How to counter frustration

For those of you who must face frustration as a daily work requirement, I offer the following guidance:

• Find something you can do and become good at doing it

• Enjoy your successes wherever and whenever you can find them; it could be a community activity or some task with another organization

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