Karpluk: Five Myths on Fire Service Leadership

The role of a leader is to set others up for success and today’s fire service leaders must do what they can to help others grow as leaders. There are many myths in fire service leadership and being familiar with the following myths will help today’s leaders lead more effectively.

Myth 1-You must be an officer to be recognized as a leader

Nothing is further from the truth. While bars on the shoulders designate the officer and rank, clearly they are not a prerequisite for leadership. It’s not about who has the most seniority or who has the most bars on the shoulders that determine leadership it’s about the willingness to grow others and the profession.

How often have you heard the statement, “he hasn’t been here long enough to have an opinion?” Probably too often!

The reality is that today’s fire service must embrace the opinions of every member of the department, whether they have been in the department for a few months, 1-year, 5-years or 25-years. We live in an age where we literally have unlimited access to information and a recruit can bring forward great ideas and become a leader in the department within months.

If you don’t believe that a recruit can become a leader early in his/her career than you still believe the myth that you need bars on your shoulders to be a leader. (Don’t admit this to anyone, as you will identify your closed mindedness).

Myth 2-Good leaders do not experience conflict

All leaders will face conflict and unfortunately too many are not prepared to deal with it because they have fallen for this myth. Conflict is a part of leadership and every leader will face conflict.

The successful leader can peel away the conflict layers and remove the emotions from the issue and methodically and with the skill of a surgeon dissect to the “real” issue in order to solve it. Conflict is a part of leadership and it’s a part of life.

Myth 3- Leaders are born not made

While it may be true that some people seem to have more leadership traits than others, the truth is successful leaders have to work hard on their leadership.

Being a leader is truly a lifelong journey and successful leaders understand that it is a requirement to work on their leadership everyday. Successful leaders put in time-a lot of time into growing their craft (yes, leadership is a craft to be mastered) by educating themselves through reading, attending seminars, taking courses, listening to audio books and seeking out a mentor and coach.

Leaders are not born -- they are made and they are made by hard work, dedication and a passion to be the best they can be in their service to others. 

Myth 4-The fire department is responsible for paying for leadership training

In a perfect world the fire department will pay for the leadership training, but since we do not live in a perfect world, it is unreasonable to expect the fire department to pay for all of the leadership training that is available today.

Existing and future leaders that want to grow in their leadership journey must understand that they need to bare some of the financial responsibility for their leadership training.

Fire service leaders wanting to master their leadership craft never stop learning and they never stop investing in their learning journey. When you have your own money invested into the training, you will do whatever you have to do to be successful, because you have contributed to the cause of your growth-it’s “your” investment in “your” future.

Myth 5-Leaders have it easy

It may appear that leaders get-the-breaks but these breaks occur because the leader has taken the time to identify goals they want to achieve. They have routines that keep them focused on their goals and they are open to new ideas.

Leaders recognize opportunities, act upon them and overcome their fears to move toward their leadership goals. Leaders that make it look easy have prepared themselves beforehand and have worked diligently at building their leadership craft. If it looks easy, it’s because the leader has sacrificed blood, sweat and tears to make it look easy.  

Every successful leader can attest that leadership isn’t easy and it isn’t for the weak-hearted.

Being a leader in the fire service is a big responsibility and whether you are a firefighter, officer or chief officer, the reality is that you must work on your leadership craft everyday. Your time and resources are precious, so learn from some of these myths and grow your leadership craft.