One of the great things about getting older is that after doing some things the wrong way a number of times you really can start do things the right way...and seeing the results you want. Leading companies, organizations and teams really comes down to providing guidance, inspiration and support for the people you have sworn to lead, care for and love. Yes love. Think that's a soft thing? Think again. It's not. Bottom-line, leadership is an act of love. In very few other areas of human endeavor is this more true than the fire service. As the Lebanease poet Kalil Kabran wrote, "work is love made visible." Putting their lives on the line is an act of love fire fighters provide for the citizens they protect, and for each other...and for you, chief. They deserve no less than the finest quality of focused and caring leadership you can provide as chief. That takes time, understanding, strength and care. It can be messy because you are dealing with real people who have problems just like the rest of the human race. That is why you are there. Do you think your fire fighters would do less then their very best at an incident? Well, chiefy, your incident is on-going 24 hours a day, just like the safety your fire fighters provide to your citizens. You wanted to be chief. So lead your troops, not your ego.
Once upon a time I had the privilege of being a Fire Commissioner for one of the finest departments in this country: Woodinville, Washington. It was the ultimate for me. That department was fortunate to have some of the brightest and committed fire fighters on the planet. I am sure that is still true today. There are many great fire departments today and all 38,000 have the capacity to be great if they have great leadership. In the end this comes down to having a chief who holds nothing back in this relationship of love for his/her fire fighters and their families. Because the result is the 24 hour safety of the citizens the fire fighters protects. In my opinion there is no room in our service for fire chiefs who do not understand this simple fact. Leading a fire department is not a notch for a career on the way to becoming a legend in one's own mind. I have seen this happen many times in many places and it is the one thing that makes my blood boil. So before you as chief feel such a great need to get your next advanced degree in Public Administration, or to become the next president of the state chiefs organization, make sure you have spent the time doing everything you can to make your own fire department the best it can be. My guess is that you will never run out of things to do. Your citizens deserve it for their safety don't they? This means tapping into the wonderful resources you have in your own people and seeing what you can do at home before you do it someplace else. Your career trajectory will rise in proportion to the success you build at home. Your fire fighters will thank you for it by taking you there.