These fine men were veterans of both World War Two and the Korean War. It was in that time and place that I learned the difference between ordering and influencing. Imagine having to supervise people who are older than your own father. It was then that I learned that suggesting courses of action and seeking feedback were both good ways to deal with this situation.
Over the years I have developed these skills in order to achieve some degree of success in many may different leadership roles within the fire service. I have learned that you need to start of with a minimalist approach to leading people and then add layers of assistance and guidance as the situation dictates. Some people work well with a minimum of supervision, while others must be held by the hand and guided in the right direction.
You must be able to work with both types of people, as well as all of the other folks who operate somewhere on the continuum of life between these two extremes. My successes and my failures have served to increase my knowledge of how to lead others.
Let me assure you that you will never succeed in becoming perfect at leading others. My suggestion to you is to remember that from the day of our birth until the moment of our death, each of us is a work in progress. As long as we live, there will always be one more change to succeed. To you who are active responders, that next time will come as soon as the next time you and your team roll out the front door en-route to your next call.
Your vision of where you team should be heading is critical to your team's success. Let me propose to you that your vision needs to be tightly focused around the role of your unit within your fire department's overall scheme of operations. Remember the limitations of scope on you and your unit's place in the department. Once you create this vision, you will need to empower your people to become a part of the efforts targeted to achieve future success.
Once this vision is created you have to sell it to the troops. It will be easier to sell if you had the help of your troops in developing the guts of the plan to reach your vision. Perhaps you can work to build a vision around becoming the best engine, truck, or rescue company in your battalion, district, or city. In order to reach this goal, you must develop a plan for achieving the objectives you select for your team. Ask you people for their suggestions on what must be done to create the plan to reach this goal.
Once this planning task has been accomplished you then have to sell yourself and your skills as being the person most appropriate to make the team's journey toward this vision and the approach goals a reality. The only way to build up loyalty is to show respect and reliability to your team members. You must always be there for them and support them at all times and in all places.
Your reputation as the person to lead your team on its goal-achieving journey is built one day at a time. It will not happen in one, sudden burst of brilliance. You need to show up every day, listen to the needs and comments of your troops and take care of them to the greatest extent possible.
One of your critical roles as a small-unit leader is to develop others who are capable of taking your place when you move upward in the world of fire department leadership. Think of this as training your replacement. You have aspirations. Remember that each of us has ambitions. You are not the only one. You are not at the center of the universe. You have a duty to help the people who are working with you to make you look good as a leader.
Let me suggest that you must work to uncover the dreams, goals, and aspirations of your people. Then help them develop a plan to reach their dreams. Let me assure you that people never, ever forget a leader who has helped them to achieve success in their lives.
An important part of your role as a right-front seat leader is to be an advocate and defender of the people who have been entrusted to your care. You will probable have enemies in your organization. None of us is universally loved. The same will hold true for the members of your team.