Lethal Leadership Landmines: A Primer

One of the most often-quoted phrases is that, "…the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Let me also suggest that the road to leadership success in the fire service is also paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, the road is also strewn...


One of the most often-quoted phrases is that, "…the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Let me also suggest that the road to leadership success in the fire service is also paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, the road is also strewn with something which I have come to call "leadership landmines." These are things which, if we ignore them and their potential impacts, stand ready to explode in our faces and upset our best efforts at being a good leader. Let me suggest that my job here today with you is to help you weave your way around these various landmines as you travel the road of fire service leadership.

Let me also suggest an excellent starting point for this discussion. No one starts out to be a bad leader. Just about everyone I have ever met had as their goal to become the best possible leader for their troops that they possibly could. However, as they say, stuff happens. Our journey is knocked off stride and our efforts at effective leadership are frustrated. Sadly, far too many people who start out with the best of intentions ends up being sidetracked when they step on one of these landmines.

Here is a list of those things which I place within the category of potential landmines:

  • Fatigue
  • Frustration
  • Location
  • One-Way Streets
  • Expressways
  • Antiquarians
  • Button-Pushers


This list is far from complete, but it is a good start. It is more of a jumping-off point. The more of these landmines that you can locate and place on your operational map the better and safer will be your journey through the minefield. The better you are at this mine avoidance process the better will be your chances for success as a leader. Let me assure you that I am dead serious about this list. Each bullet point involves a lesson learned the hard way.

Let me begin by warning you about the serious negative impacts of fatigue. Fatigue is a serious problem because it can sneak up on you. What are the effects you need to worry about? It can lead to a decrease in your ability to use judgment effectively. It may cause you to ignore or rush through certain critical steps in your decision-making process. It can literally short-circuit your critical thought processes.

It is important to stress to you the fact that fatigue can be (and usually is) a two-way street. Whatever fatigue is doing to as the leader and what you may be feeling, it is having a greater impact on the people who are working on your behalf. These are the people actually doing the hard work. Some of the stupidest things which I ever did as a leader can in hindsight be directly laid at the doorstep of fatigue.

My friends, you have to force yourself to recognize the effects of fatigue and work to counter them. Some of these effects are:

  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Difficulty concentrating and work your checklists
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of motivation


There is a real problem here, because it is your thought process which is at the root of this who issue. Should you fail to address the problems caused by fatigue you are setting yourself up for all of the bad things which frustration can bring to you and the members of your working team. Frustration can be explained quite simply. You want things and you are not getting what you want. Your needs are not being met.

Think about it this way. If you are hungry, food is the cure. Thirst can be met by the use of water and other fluids. Other things are quite a bit more complex. You want the fire to go out, but it won't. You want the boss to stop chewing on your butt, but he won't. You wish the crew on the 'C' Shift would stop leaving the pumper in disarray when their shift is at an end. See what I mean when I say that frustration can be a real pain in the place where you sit down.

As a young lad growing up in Freehold, NJ, I often heard a real gem of philosophical advice. I can recall my late grandmother telling me that, "…patience is a virtue." It is my duty to tell you that it turns out that patience is far more of a virtue than I ever imagined it might be. Let me also offer a bit of hard-earned experience. Never pray for patience. You will end up facing a new round of frustrating events which will demand that you accept your fate and soldier on. That is of course the way in which you learn to develop the ability to be patient.

For those of you who must face frustration as a daily work requirement I offer the following guidance:

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