Some in the fire service think that by achieving a position, rank or title they become a leader. It’s not a secret that leadership plays a key role in the fire service and for those that think they have arrived as a leader because they have the status of the new title-a word of caution; beware as you are setting the stage for your own demise.
The dynamics of leadership are complex and leadership is not as easy as some people view it. Noted author Stephen Covey stated, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” In the spirit of leadership, let’s look at five elements that leaders must remain focused on to keep the main thing the main thing.
I. People: Leadership is all about people and being able to get along with others. A successful leader is one who fully appreciates the value of people and recognizes that it is through people that our departments grow. Effective leaders want to work with people and see them succeed. This includes the provision of technical training and officer development programs, coaching and promotional opportunities.
True leaders derive a sense of joy and accomplishment when they see their people succeed and will go to great lengths to give the right assistance to their people. Leaders that forget about their people or are unable to build solid working relationships will eventually find themselves unable to sustain their leadership role and in some cases out of a job.
II. Leaders-follower relationship: Too often the misunderstanding regarding this relationship is that it is solely based upon the leader influencing followers. There is some truth to this, but the influencing process between the leader and follower is a two way street and knowing how to lead and develop leadership skills in followers makes a better leader and better follower.
A follower is a person being influenced by a leader, but is not the “yes” person that follows the leader without providing input for the leader. The successful leader-follower relationship is symbiotic and has effective leaders influencing the followers, and effective followers influencing the leader. Understanding the leader-follower relationship is one of the key elements of successful leadership. If you are reading this and thought it all boils down to a mutually respectful relationship, then you would be right.
III. Communicate during times of change: People fear change and would rather co-exist with their existing level of unhappiness than to change to the unfamiliar. Successful leaders are aware of the tensions brought forth by change, even when change brings forward benefits to the individual and the department. During times of change a leader cannot over communicate and must increase the volume to communicate to all parties involved in the change process.
IV. Leadership Influence: Influence is about inspiring others and understanding that the best investment for the future is the ability to influence people today. Noted NFL coach Vince Lombardi stated, “Leadership is based on a spiritual quality-the power to inspire others to follow.” This is what influence is all about, the ability to communicate ideas in order to gain acceptance of the ideas, and inspire the team to apply the ideas. Everyone motivates someone and it is up to the leader to inspire followers so they can influence others in the department to support the initiatives.
V. Department vision: Successful leaders realize that the vision is what propels the department into the future…into the Promised Land. Leaders are aware of the fact that 89 percent of what we learn is visual and consequently they possess the ability to communicate the vision in vivid imagery. This energizes and influences the team to not only follow, but to embrace the vision of the leader. Without a clear vision frustration can set in and the department will lose its focus.
Don’t kid yourself; there exists in every department a leader that does not have bars on his or her shoulders, yet they are leading.