I have been reading books on historical figures and great leaders. I find these people fascinating and intriguing. Many of these individuals have been studied on their leadership style and characteristics in great detail. However, the parallels to these great politicians, executives, generals and peace keepers is that they were aware of their surroundings and those around them. They all understood there was a greater cause.
In the fire service, the same can be said about our great leaders. Heck, our leaders are actually teaching the leaders of big business in today’s society. But, just like those in history, our most revered fire service leaders know that there is a larger cause and purpose to what they do. The point is that these men and women do what they do for the good of the organization and the profession.
There are many concepts and theories about what makes an effective leader. Some argue that great leaders are born with a character trait that you can’t teach while others argue that they have learned traits from observation and experiences. Obviously, I, as do many others believe, that it is a combination of both and other factors that make a person a leader.
I have seen members of our profession believe that they are leaders because they deem themselves as such or because they hold rank. Neither qualifies that person as a leader. In fact, I would argue that if a person touts that he is a leader, the truth is likely that he is not.
For those that are true leaders, we must find and mentor those who obtain the skills and attributes of and effective leader. Our profession deserves and demands that our leaders be skilled, educated, knowledgeable and experienced. Self appointed leaders end up causing great problems within an organization and are typically self-promoting. Again, we need leaders who put the whole above themselves without any fanfare or spectacle. The people you supervise will give you notice on how well your doing by following your example and becoming extraordinary.
One concept that I truly believe that fire service leaders must understand is that they have to meet the needs of the members. Not give in or be submissive to avoid conflict. I mean that great leaders understand and recognize what their organization needs and can set a path to achieve those goals. This will require the leader to be dynamic and fluid and again, requires foresight and the understanding that the organization is most important.
Remember, if you do not meet the needs and are not on the same goal path as your followers, you will not be respected and you will not be an effective leader. You must obtain the respect of your people by being honorable, fair, just and committed. The best leaders typically will lead by example and the members see this in a positive light.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that rank and title do not “entitle” a person to be a leader. There are some great leaders who have never been promoted or who did not want promotion. On the other side, we have chief officers who are dysfunctional as leaders even though they have been promoted.
An effective leader understands that respect is earned and not demanded. Those who follow want to be led in the right direction and the organization will suffer if there are not adequate leaders at the helm.
Take pride in what you do. Have the integrity to do the right things when it is not popular. Be just and honest and you will become a great leader.