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As important as it is to understand what makes a good leader, it’s equally as important to understand why so many fail in leadership positions. Here is a quick list of some traits associated with poor leadership.

1. Lack of passion

2. Unclear vision

3. Poor communication skills

4. Risk aversion

5. Callous

6. Unethical

7. Poor self-management

8. Incompetent

9. Plays the victim

10. Tears others down

11. Micromanager

12. First to take the credit

13. Last to take the blame

     When someone in an authoritative position displays poor leadership traits, the mission they are trying to accomplish is doomed to fail. A fire service officer will never earn the respect of his or her crew unless they develop the qualities that align with those of great leaders.

     As I was writing my book Step Up and Lead, I kept thinking about the most common thing said about many high ranking officers within our industry, which is “Why do so many forget where they came from?”

     The truth is, few of them forgot. In reality, many of them have never taken time to learn how to lead in the first place. They are suddenly put into a position of authority with little to no training on how to do thier new job. They may ask firefighters to take care of a simple task, and when it doesnt get done correctly (or at all), they get angry and handle the situation poorly. Yes, some of the blame of an ineffectlve leader may fall upon the shoulders of the people he or she is leading. Some firefighters decide early on that they are not going to respect someone who has risen to a high rank sooner than others have. This doesnt make it okay for an officer to display some of the characteristics listed above. The simple truth is, just like a firefighter has to learn how to fight a fire, a fire officer must learn how to lead others under his or her command.

     For that reason, I have started an ‘Officer Development’ page where you will find tips on how to become a more effective leader. Feel free to print out the articles on leadership skills and our practice scenarios and use them to help you improve in those areas where you feel you need growth. If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that in todays climate of ‘fewer doing more’, we all have a lot to learn.

Hopefully you will find what you are looking for on this page:

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Replies to This Discussion

I like it Chief!  It is pretty crazy how you can look at that list and assign those traits to people on the job.

"Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it" is a quote attributed to George Santayana, in Reason in Common Sense. Unfortunately, repeating past mistakes is how most people live their lives. Everybody wants to wear the white helmet until it's time to make the tough decision

Some of our best leaders are the informal leaders and a good officer will use this authority to their advantage.  Most of my informal leaders were either someone in a driver’s position or a senior firefighter. They are an invaluable tool to running a smooth shift.

On the fire ground you need to make quick clear autocratic commands. Failure to act swiftly will result in freelancing and an uncontrolled environment. Although you should use Crew Resource Management where appropriate, the final decision is yours, the incident commander.

In quarters, a good officer is like a border collie. You lead the group from point A to point B staying on the peripheral not interfering with the task at hand. You make sure the task is done completely and correctly. You give guidance and suggestions realizing the old saying, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” 

Never blame others, if someone under your command makes a mistake it may be your fault. Did you make your objective clear? Did you give the project to the most qualified person to complete the job? If something goes wrong a good leader will take the responsibility.  A good leader will also share in the praises of a job well done.

You will have to make unpopular decisions at times. The problem will not just resolve and go away, get the facts and make the right decision early. The problem will only get bigger the longer you wait. Not making a decision will make you look like a weak leader. Your subordinates may not like the decision, but they will respect you later.

Remember, you are only as good as the people below you. Some of those under your command at times will be better informed than you. Take advantage of their knowledge. It will only make the entire group perform better. You can never be accused of nepotism if you treat everyone equally. Treat people the way you wanted to be treated. 

Chief, I agree with Chris, the book has been helpful for me personally. I have already had my stuggles to overcome by the the book sitting on my desk. So far so good! Baby steps.

Good stuff and as noted above we can all probably point to many officers and list the numbered traits we see. I know that as I rose in rank, I typically wasn't as clear about who I wanted to be, as I was clear about who I would never be like. Of course some of that is like saying I won't be like my parents and 30 years later, low and behold we're more alike than we'd predicted. 

While I agree that leading others requires knowing what works and what doesn't with certain individuals or groups, I think it's harder today to get to know the personnel under you than ever before. The increase in technology seems to have led to a decrease in personal interaction among shift members, so it can take longer to find out what makes some of the newer people tick. 


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