First Due: Five Things that Matter Most When Leading Firefighters

Nov. 14, 2022
Jeremy Mathis reminds company officers and chief officers that leading ties into their job of taking care of the people who are under their supervision.

As a company officer or a chief officer who directly or indirectly leads firefighters, many factors matter and can affect the relationship that you have with your subordinates. Although the list of factors can be long, and leading itself can be daunting, the following five leadership ideas rise above the rest.

Coaching matters

Firefighting takes a team approach, and a company officer or a chief officer, is the coach of that team. Firefighters are the members of the team. They aren’t individual contributors. They need the support of the coach or mentor to grow in their skills. They need to learn from that person during challenging situations.

Spending the time to develop the needs of your crew both personally and professionally helps to build the coach/mentor relationship.

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them”—Timothy Gallwey

Thinking matters

These days, everyone seems to have a to-do list that goes on and on. Fire service leaders are asked to do more and more and often are given the same or fewer resources to accomplish these tasks. That said, your organization doesn’t just need more productivity out of you; it needs you to think.

Think about the direction that your team is going and the opportunities and challenges that it will face. Think about the next person up and how to prepare that individual to step in and fulfill your role. Think about the newest member of your team and how to capture that person’s excitement and wonder for the job and how that individual will spread those to teammates.

The ability to think about all of the members of your crew and their needs is what sets apart a person who has a title from a person who is a true leader. Leaders think about others before themselves.

Your example matters

As a leader, your example sets the tone for many aspects of your day and, furthermore, for the organization as a whole.

Firefighters do more than listen to your words; they watch you. Members of your company watch you directly, and members of other companies watch you indirectly as they watch how your crew handles certain situations.

Time that’s spent thinking about this and being more intentional about the big and little things that you say and do has a significant, positive outcome for your team. As is the case with your reputation, it takes many good deeds to build a good example and only one bad deed to lose it.

Conversation matters

There isn’t anything that’s more sacred and more filled with tradition in the fire service than the kitchen table. The problems of the world have been discussed and solved many times over while sitting there drinking a cup of coffee. However, the conversations that I’m referring to here are deliberate ones that give each member of your crew the opportunity to express ideas. People have heard you talk, but have they seen you listen?

Conversations are created by an open exchange of ideas, challenges and opportunities. Every good conversation starts with good listening.

Influence matters

As a supervisor of a team, you have direct influence over that team; you interact with them regularly. Your ideas often are conveyed by the members of your company, and at times, they express the ideas as their own. Over the course of your career, your influence might reach to an untold number of others; hopefully, with a little forethought, it will leave a lasting positive effect.

“While everyone exercises influence, the size and strength of our influence depends upon or effort. No one leads well without paying the price of discipline. As we push ourselves to grow and to learn, we enlarge a sphere of influence.”—John C. Maxwell

It’s about caring

Numerous other skills might be as important to develop as the five that are noted above, but the five give you a strong foundation. If you take a little time to consider which of these you and the members of your team could benefit from most and start there, you will begin to create a strong and successful team.

Being a successful leader is a never-ending quest that’s full of peaks and valleys. These five skills help to embody servant leadership. Because of that, they help to build the culture within your company and, ultimately, throughout your organization, to provide a positive environment.

Your job as a leader is to take care of the people who you are assigned to work with, because, in the end, they are what truly matter most.

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