Dear friends, my study of the concept of leadership has formed a great part of my professional life for well over three decades now. Let me suggest that my research has documented the fact that some people really are better leaders than others. Let me now ask you a critical question. Why? Is this luck, fate, education, experience, or some combination of all of these?
Let me suggest to you that effective leadership comes about as a result of hard work and a strict adherence to certain personal and professional standards of performance. I am offering to you a recommendation that those individuals who experience the most success are those who spend the requisite amount of time learning the principles of effective leadership must. These people then take great pains working to maintain and refine those skills and principles.
The formula for leadership success is as simple to state as it is difficult to implement. Some people also work to continually refine their leadership style based upon their experience. Those things that lead to success are kept in their personal arsenal of skills and those things which do not are discarded. For many years, people in the fire service looked to the now-discredited physical traits theory to define what a leader is or should at least look like.
These traits were used to select and cultivate future candidates for positions of leadership. Therefore, if you didn't look like a leader, you never got to be a leader. As we all thought we knew back then, leaders were all tall, blond muscular, decisive, tough and possessing that chiseled look of a movie-star type of leader.
Now we know just how much bull was involved in those old leadership theories. Not all leaders were tall. How would you explain Napoleon and Hitler under these types of traits? Heck, they sure as heck were not nice people at all. Fortunately, we have moved well beyond an emphasis on the physical traits exhibited by an individual. We now use different concepts of what it takes to succeed in any position of leadership.
The things which we look for in our leaders have a lot more to do with mental characteristics and moral attributes than with a person's physical endowments. Let me stress to you that while traits are no longer the major determinants in selecting and developing our leaders, we do need to emphasize that such folks must behave in a respectful and morally-correct manner. We are not looking for the foul-mouthed, brutish people who come across as foul-mouthed, unkempt, and slovenly people. That much I know for sure.
Let me also strongly stress to you that people in positions of leadership must have an even temperament and act in a calm and rational manner. No one likes to follow a person who is constantly shooting from the hip and going off half-cocked. These folks need to serve as a rock solid foundation for the actions of the organization and their subordinates.
Leaders should be calm and even in their demeanor and act as a fulcrum during stressful situations. A successful leader must exercise sound judgment and make logical decisions based upon the facts which are available to them. Some decisions, such as those on the fireground must be made quickly, while others should be studied and analyzed to insure that the proper data has been gathered for the making of that decision. A successful leader will be the one who is able to exercise sound judgment and make rapid analyses of the available information and alternatives.
Effective leaders are enthusiastic about their work. This genuine commitment which they live in the midst of their labors is contagious. It spreads to subordinates, who, in turn, derive a similar level of satisfaction from their work. Such a leader builds an aura of trust and stimulates creativity among the work team. They do not toss cold water on the troops once they get them thinking and acting. They guide rather than herd or drive their people.
Good leaders are dependable. Both superiors and subordinates know that the word of such effective leaders is their bond. People have no reason to doubt those leaders who earn the trust of their associates on a daily basis. People who work for leaders like this are well aware of the fact that they will receive valuable direction and solid backing in all of their labors.
It is most important for a leader to fully and completely know and understand their job. They must also know the jobs of the people with whom they work. I say this for one simple reason. How can a leader tell a follower that there is a problem with the manner in which they are performing their job, if they have never learned what the job looks like when it is properly done? This is incredibly important for an organizations success.
Leaders must be able to solve daily problems as they arise. Letting things slide is one sure way to guarantee future fire department failure. In working the leader/follower equation, the leader must be fair and impartial at all times. They must concentrate on their subordinate's concerns, while shunning any sort of favoritism towards members of the work group.
I urge all people in positions of leadership to remember that their followers work with them and not for them. This is a simple grammatical distinction which can pay great dividends to the person in the leadership role. When the troops are out there taking a beating, you will not see the true leader sucking down a cup of coffee at the fireground rehab center, or warming themselves up in an out-of-the-way spot.
My friends, you lead from the front or you don't lead at all. A good leader is also diplomatic and tactful in dealing people both within and without the fire department. Mutual trust is really important in the fire service. I say this because we must all depend on one another to perform as a team in some really threatening situations and environments.
People depend upon the leader and the leader most certainly depends upon their people. The conscientious fire service leader exercises an appropriate level of concern for the safety of everyone with whom they work. You must remember that every person is a unique individual. While one person may need a great deal of supervision, direction, and guidance, other may not. Some may only require the merest suggestion in order to proceed to complete the necessary task or assignment. You need to learn how your people tick so that you can provide the proper level of individualized supervision and leadership to each.
True leaders really get to know their people as individuals. They 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 the leader 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.
Let me suggest to you that maintaining the proper balance between authority and democracy requires a wisdom which does not come easily to some people. However, the effort which it takes to provide that balance will be rewarded by the high success rates exhibited by people working under such a leader.
It has been my pleasure to share some very basic thoughts on the concept of leadership with you. If you wish to become a leader, you must put forth the effort to learn as much as you can about what is leader is and what they do. In order to do this, you must devote a great deal of time and effort. Leaders do not just happen.
If you are a leader, work to be the best you can be. If you aspire to be one, hitch your wagon to a person you hold up as an example of what a leader should be. You might even wish to approach them and ask them to mentor you as you move along the road toward becoming a leader. I just want to close with a simple bit of advice which I have learned over my 47 years in the fire and emergency service world: Leadership doesn't just happen. You have to work at it.