Leadership: A Few More Clues From On High

July 1, 1999
During my career in the fire service, I have worked hard at becoming an observer of the world around me. I have noted many things on my trip through the groves of smoke and flames. I have observed fire departments with top-notch equipment and first-class facilities staffed by very unhappy people. And there have been marginally equipped fire departments with rundown fire stations, average equipment and supremely happy people. Why?

What separates the average fire department from the truly great one? First among all of those things you might mention is leadership. The person at the pinnacle of the organization can be a force for good or a force for evil. Or that person can have no force whatsoever. Let us look at some of those leadership attributes which are necessary for success. Remember, this presumes that you are truly desirous of being a force for good.

You have read the fruits of my past research on many occasions. To freshen up my view of things, I took yet another trip through my personal library. I also looked back into the past for some secrets to success. I was most fortunate. I was able to reach out to a unique new source. A recent acquisition for my library came from my pastor - the text titled, The Management Methods of Jesus, written by Bob Briner.

Lest you suddenly choose to stop reading at this point, for personal religious purposes, let me assure you that this is a tremendous read. The language is clear. And the ideas are simple, but insightful. The impact comes from the truth held within the ideas.

Just a quick look at the names of some of the book's chapters will start you thinking in a positive vein:

  • Have a Plan
  • Be Prepared
  • Choose Your Own Associates
  • Teach, Teach, Teach
  • Establish Authority
  • Practice Private Communications
  • Get Good Logistical Support
  • Learn a Little Humility
  • Share the Glory
  • Say Thanks

While the titles seem to say it all, each chapter in this fine book goes on to fill in the blanks. The chapters are short, but the message is strong. The variable in the learning equation is how much attention you pay to what the author has written.

Perhaps the most important point the author makes is that Jesus had an extremely strong and clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish. According to the author, "He knew where he was going and he went there." Another important lesson comes from the fact that you must be intensely committed to your plan.

It is this intense commitment which translates into the vision for your fire department. One commodity which cannot be faked is sincerity. If you are a phony, people will spot you in a heartbeat and your plan will fail.

You plan to do only those things in which you really believe. Why have a member of your staff design a bright and shiny new training program if you do not give a "hoot in hell" for knowledge? People will see you for the fraud that you are.

The same holds true for every part of your fire department. Many fire chiefs fall into the failure circle by developing a career based on developing a reactionary approach to management. No thought is given to planning; they only respond to problems. Their excuse for failure comes from the actual, real-life fact that they are really always too busy reacting to things. The future is an unknown quantity for which they have no visceral capability.

Another chapter that holds great relevancy for those of us who are committed to training is the one titled, "Teach, Teach, Teach." It is my chosen vocation to keep the knowledge flowing. How many of you have met the "expert" who by dint of learning something once became the expert? And then that person proceeded to never again learn a single new fact about his or her area of expertise.

Many of these people were like one-way sponges. They soaked up knowledge for themselves and then never shared. What a tremendous waste of time for the original instructor whose work was never passed along.

Learning is a privilege. And more than that, knowledge is a gift. The best way to repay the gift of knowledge is to allow others the privilege of sharing it with you.

Perhaps the greatest form of respect is that which is based upon professional expertise. What firmer base is there to build upon than knowledge? Your positive achievements as a leader must be based on the maxim that those who "Teach, Teach, Teach" will succeed. It has taken me a long time, but I firmly believe in this precept. You must think success if you are to have any chance to succeed.

I want you to think about those happy people dwelling in marginal structures and using average equipment. Those are probably the people who love going to work. I would be willing to bet that at the root of their happiness lies a visionary leader; albeit a visionary with a poor budget. But he is probably working on that.

Pay attention. Have a vision and plan to reach that vision. With a little help from above, you might just succeed.

Dr. Harry R. Carter, a Firehouse® contributing editor, recently retired as a battalion commander with the Newark, NJ, Fire Department, where he also served as chief of training. He is also a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia, NJ, Fire Department. Dr. Carter is an Associate of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain (AIFireE).

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