Over the past several years I have spent a great deal of time studying the concept of leadership as it evolves within the organizational environment. In comparing my research with the people I have studied in the world around me, I have noted a decided change in the type of people who are serving as leaders in the fire service.
Perhaps it is a by-product of the way that our society has changed, or maybe it is just the next step in our evolution as a fire service. In either case, I am upset. The inward, selfish focus of certain people has really begun to bother me. If I hear one more person, either a leader or a follower, say "…what's in it for me, " I think I will scream.
Heck gang, we are in the lifesaving business. None of us does what we do in order to gain great riches. You enter the fire and emergency service world to help people. How can you be a caring, sharing leader with a selfish attitude like this? How can you get out in front and take chances, when your only concern is for your self?
The true leader must remember to live their role as though they were truly servants of their troops, rather than bosses. They must work to serve the citizens of their communities, and lead their troops firmly and fairly. They must balance this with their position within the political environment of the community wherein they serve.
They must also follow another critical element in the leadership equation. They should strive to live the motto of the United State's Army Infantry School: "Follow Me!" They would never ask you to do something they hadn't done themselves. I have been writing these words for many years now, but I feel it does not hurt to roll them out once again.
The truly effective leaders have showed the way by doing the following things as a matter of course:
- They stand up for their people.
- They remember how they were treated when they were firefighters and vow not to do that to others.
- They remember the good leaders they have followed and work to emulate their style and approach.
- They never pull the rug out from under you.
- You can always trust them to keep their word
In other words, they were always thinking of others, not themselves.
These are some really fine complements. But are they words that can be uttered about you? I have worked with far too many people who could have had streets named after them. You know the type: One Way. And guess which way the arrow is pointed?
For a change, I am not talking about chiefs and politicians. I am speaking about officers of all ranks who place their own good before the general good of the people that they lead. A couple of examples spring quickly to mind.
I can remember a captain who always felt that reloading hose was beneath his dignity as an officer and a gentleman. I am sure that there are a number of departments who go out of their way to make sure that captain is a dignified and respected position. And there are many departments that consider a Captain to be too important of a supervisor to load hose. I would hope they have enough people to take up the slack for the slackers.
That is just not my view of things. To me a Captain has always been a working foreman (or foreperson nowadays). Anyway, this captain to whom I am referring would always plunk his butt down in the cab of his pumper while the troops struggled to reload the hose. If the full crew of a driver and three firefighters was there, maybe the Captain could monitor the operation, but this guy would do his disappearing act even when the crew had shrunken down to a driver and one firefighter. This is sure not a good way to create loyalty among the troops. The funny part of this is that I know where this man worked before being promoted, and his old captain always helped out with the chores.