Recently I spent some time reviewing the research files one my computer and was pleased to come across a really neat article on the basics of leading people within a volunteer environment. Let me suggest that they will apply to each and every type of fire department you will ever encounter.
The author of the piece in question devoted a great deal of time outlining a number of tips which he had gained from his personal mentors over the years. He suggested that his guides in life demonstrated a number of basic skills which an effective leader must develop and use.
In the first instance, he suggested that the leader must understand and define the current reality within which the leader and the follower are working. Other people might just call this an environmental scan, wherein the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the team are explored.
Let me suggest that each of us, regardless of our level in the organization must have a vision for what they want their level of the organization to accomplish. Once they have the picture framed for their troops, they must clearly explain why you are going work towards the reaching that vision.
The part that many among us tend to forget is that we must develop a good plan for getting there. Things do not just happen. Who among you would ever want to start a road trip without benefit a map (or a GPS)? You need to dope out the parts of the plan and the work to assure the group you can lead them there.
One of the most important things which leaders must seek to do at every level is to choose and develop other leaders for the future. When I was studying for the Captain's examination in Newark back in the 1970's there was a rule which was covered in one of the many textbooks that I studied. This was the 'three-position' rule. Within this rule it was suggested that each of us in a leadership slot was the concurrent occupant of three distinct positions:
· We were the occupants of the position we held.
· We had other, higher positions to which we aspired.
· We had a responsibility to train our replacement.
Think about the benefits of an organization which operated according to the parameters expressed within this rule. You would have people who were working hard to be good in their jobs. You would have people studying and training to assume higher-level roles within the organization. Finally, you would have a method of bringing along the next generation of leaders.
Once all of the plans and preparations have been laid out, you, as the leader, must be willing to take the first step toward future operational success. This is not an easy decision, but without it, nothing can ever happen. Let me suggest that you must be ready to go to battle on behalf of your team. The greater your success in laying out your leadership program, the larger will be the number of people who want to see you fail. That is just a fact of life. Be ready for it.
By now you may be thinking that these skills and abilities are strictly for those in the upper level of your organization. This is a common misconception. How can you become a good upper-level leader if you have not learned and practiced good leadership skills on your climb up through the ranks of your fire department? Do you expect to bumble along for years and then experience a sudden burst of brilliance? Let me assure you that is not how it works.
My entry into the world of leadership came early on. During the time I spent at my last duty station in the U.S. Air Force, I periodically served as the relief station captain. Trust me when I say that this was not an easy task. A number of the civilian firefighters and drivers were much older than I was.