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John Maxwell states that when you have two teams of the same talent... with all things being equal, the team with the greatest leadership will win. That powerful message is so true in the world today.  The fire service is all about a group of men and women who are highly educated, dedicated to deliver the best service possible and as John Maxwell puts it, they are very talented.  So why is the organizational behavior of many fire departments challenged to evolve with today's society?  Failure to grow your membership intellectually through teaching, coaching and mentoring is failure to prepare the next generation of fire service leaders.  Two words.... "Succession Planning"  Without this built in component of planning for the future, organizations continue to play catch up in an ever changing world.


So where do we start?  The leader of a fire department must have a strong understanding of both the principles of management as well as the power of his or her influence. Using John Maxwell's philosophy on leadership, this can be accomplished by implementing his five levels of developing leadership within an organization.


A person must first fully understand his or her position, the responsibilities and  legitimate power. (rules, regulations, codes, RSA's etc.)  The next phase of leadership is the ability to build lasting relationships within the membership. To be honest, you will simply get more done by "Who you know" compared to "What you think you know".  The fire service is 100 percent about the "People Business" and we must collaborate together to get things done effectively. When a leader has achieved these first two steps, he or she will have increased productivity.  In Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs", once a person understands the expectations of their position and have become confident with the organization, they will simply provide better services. 


Here is where many leaders fail within an organization, they do not know how to gauge productivity in the fire service. "You simply can't lead what you can not measure".  The fire service needs to have a better understanding of measurability and for that I am talking specifically about (KPI) or Key Performance Indicators; which means the organization should strive for 95 percent excellence in any given area of their service delivery model. If you seek more than that, your time invested will far exceed the rewards and as an organization you stall.  I feel strongly that performance and productivity go hand-in-hand. To assure you see an increase in both you need to implement a quality control program that is easily measureable. The only way, we as fire service leaders can provide our customers (the taxpayers) with measurability is by establishing JPR or Job Performance Requirements for all skill sets a firefighter is expected to provide. When you tailor your department's in-house training program to match these requirements you will have measurability.  Fire Chiefs who guess about operational readiness will learn of their departments deficiencies when an emergency arises.  This reactive management style identifies deficiencies through post incident review but the public expects a progressive leader who can assure when a life is on the line, that the responders are truly battle ready. There is a reason why some Firefighter 1 skill sets have JPR's, that's because the skill set is required to be completed in a timely manner that is both of quality and is measurable.


Now to overcome this typical failure point where traditional fire service leadership has stumbled; the fire chief must  understand how to move his or her organization to the next level. What I mean by this is they must simply add a pinch of salt to the organization. Just as the Bible talks about adding a pinch of salt to dramatically change the taste of a given food (Luke 14 p.34-35)  The fire department must absolutely establish an in-house professional development program to move the organization to that next level. Often fire chiefs feel that if a person wants to seek an advancement or promotion, it is up to the individual to seek professional development on their own.  That is where leadership fails the membership, you see going back to the two teams of equal talent theory... it is the team with the greatest leadership that will rein superior and shine. When you invest in your membership, it will pay back ten fold. That can be as simple as offering a leadership module during your next officers meeting, how about developing a line supervisor and/or chief fire officer mentoring program before people are promoted, or hosting college classes in the fire station (like a satellite program from a nearby community college) or just simply endorse online distance learning degree programs.  You see visionary leadership will refer to this important step in the five levels of leadership as succession planning.  Without it, often times we are all thinking the same and if we are all thinking the same... then who is planning for the future?  As a steward of the taxpayers fire department, it is the fire chief's responsibility to put systems in place like the right education, the right training, policies, procedures, or standard operating guidelines so the membership can succeed.  By supporting the membership to obtain professional development, the leader of that organization will have successfully executed the first four levels of John Maxwell's model.  Once the current leadership has developed the next generation of leaders, he or she will have ultimately gained the respect of the department and can then step up onto the fifth and final step to reap respect.

So getting back to the title of this article, "The Greatest Leadership Wins"  it is important to understand that if you are the leader of an organization, that your achievements are not really about your own personal successes. All too often it is the tangible things that many leaders will say they obtained or achieved during their tenure.  Great leaders are the one's who will achieve respect through supporting the membership to achieve their personal goals.  This will not be an easy task, given that the fire service in general has lacked a large focus on succession planning for developing the future of an organization's leadership.                                                                                                                                                                                       

One thing I have learned through some very educated and highly respected mentors is the greatest tool a leader can obtain is the use of candor.  Humility is a skill great leaders employ to maintain positive relationships while still being assertive. Firefighters simply do not like an arrogant leader who leads from the front.  In the short run, the arrogant leader may feel he or she is very powerful (legitimate bugle power) but eventually this type of bad behavior will ultimately damage those relationships and the ability for him or her to influence others in the plausible future. Simply put they will not follow the spoken word of the arrogant leader unless there is a possibility of disciplinary action from breaking a policy, procedure or SOG.  In the end... respectable fire service leadership is all about developing healthy relationships within an organization for which the players are able to do their jobs effectively, so no matter what kind of problem is thrusted upon them, the public feels as though we the fire service ultimately took care of their problems.  


For more information about Professional Development opportunities from FETC Services, contact us below. As always remember to leave the fire service better than you found it and along the way please listen to "Tap the Box" on Fire Engineering Radio!   Stay safe brothers and sisters...


Billy Greenwood

FETC Services

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"Average Training Breeds an Average Fire Department, Let FETC Help You Achieve Excellence!


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Comment by Bobby Halton on October 23, 2013 at 12:50pm


As always I thoroughly enjoyed your outlook, I have always been a huge fan of John Maxwell and he has a great way of breaking things down into small meaningful bits of information. Thank you for sharing your insight and your vision. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on leadership at FDIC.
Your fan Bobby

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