Shakespeare writes, “all that glitters is not gold” expressing the idea that shiny things aren't necessarily precious things. How does this apply to our leadership in the fire services?
Gold signifies those in a leadership position are high on the leadership ladder. Gold badges, provided to the chief officers in the organization is indicative of the achievement: often hard fought with years of training, education, experience, mentoring, testing and possibly geographically relocating to another part of the country. None of these accomplishments are easy to accomplish but necessary for those wearing the gold.
Many of us take at face value the gold and glitter at the top on an organization indicates an intrinsic value to the organization and its members. Outward appearances can be deceiving, especially when the gold hides other issues including: leadership insecurities, failures, meanness, rudeness, intimidation, bullying, incompetence and other examples of leadership incompetence.
We are taken in by a leader that appears to be genuine on the surface and when penetrating that shiny golden exterior, you find a person that has only self-interest at heart and is quick to throw those less favored, less talented or perceived to be in the way, under the bus.
For example, when there is a failure to launch a program or to determine success of a program, the failed leader is quick to blame others and not shoulder the burden of responsibility for the failures. It is always, “not my fault, I delegated it to the Assistant Chief who is responsible.” That Teflon action goes only so far in an organization that, in the future, its members will be slow to accept new assignments or projects. On the flip side, if the program is successful, the failed leader is quick to step into the spotlight and claim success was based on golden leadership style and the accolades are directed in a self-centered manner.
A statement like, “I like to thank all the little people I stepped on to get here” points out the true character of the person now wearing the gold. If you had to “step on” the little people to get to where you are, what are we to expect in the future?
When we recruit or promote new leadership in our fire services, we seek out those that are genuine in their actions, have proven track records, have street creds, are considered “smart” with a modicum of common sense and has the personality to pull those attributes together.
Much of a leader’s benefit to an organization is found in their conduct and actions ensuring the successes of others they work with. Much of the Chief’s legitimate power originates from the position itself. The real power is the referent power obtained from others in the organization who willingly give that position the power to succeed and therefore allowing the organization to succeed as well. The best leaders share the glory of the accomplishments in a “we - not I” environment.
Our industry has numerous golden leaders in cities, towns and villages who demonstrate the true meaning of leadership – inspirational, experienced, educated, charismatic, and empathetic, with conduct above reproach. These are the golden leaders we need to advance to promote the anticipated changes coming to our industry.
We are experiencing the surge of new firefighters entering into our service, some with a minimum of life experiences to those with military backgrounds, recently graduated from college, arriving from other professions including physicians, attorneys, accountants and even some from law enforcement.
We are attempting to recruit more women and minorities with different and reasonable expectations that they are entering a career and not merely a job. These are people who are characteristically different from the prior years of hiring’s predominately white males. Our new generation of firefighters will bring to the table, religious beliefs, gender issues, habits, bias and other individual traits, that if properly recognized and integrated into the fire culture, will make for a strong and successful workforce.
Now is the time for an era of strong leadership where conduct and actions, without sacrificing others, serves the purpose of advancing the mission of the fire service and promotes the image of a golden leader deserving of the badge.
Truly golden leaders are the ones remembered by future generation as inspirational; the one who delegated a major project to an active and capable firefighter or team of firefighters; one who provides an educational pathway for others to succeed; one whose external appearance promotes strength and trust and most of all, one who will not abandon you in a moment of need. That leader should be you.