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Are you a senior firefighter, company officer, battalion chief or fire director? Before I even know the answer I want you to know that it really doesn’t matter what your title is as long as you understand that your primary job is to lead a team. Your team may be a team of three or several hundred. A strong leader knows his or her job is to take a group of people, align them with a common goal, get them to work as a team, and march them toward that goal. The bottom line is that you have to get the team to work together. To do this, you have to learn how to motivate, not manage.

What is your current mission? Are you trying to improve the performance of your team when they work in high pressure situations? Perhaps you are trying to continue to provide the same level of service you always have, only this time it’s within the constraints of a significant budget cut. Whatever your mission is, getting others to understand the mission and work together is the key.

Teamwork is the ability to work as a group toward a common vision, even if that vision becomes extremely blurry. As firefighters, we fully understand what it’s like to work towards a goal and push forward without seeing the environment around us. We’ve all been there, but a strong leader will be able to lead others through this type of environment in both hostile and un-hostile working conditions.

There are different ways to motivate and lead a team. Every leader has a distinct, personal style. When you think about great leaders, a specific individual may come to mind. I personally admired John Wooden and Zig Ziglar. Both will go down in history as great motivational leaders. Perhaps the thing I admire most about both of these men, however, was the way they lived their lives. They were both Godly men with strong values and a deep rooted desire to help other people reach their full potential. I’ve never spent one-on-one time with either of them, but I have sat in convention halls and listened to their messages. They did more than inspire me to become a better leader. They helped me become a better person.

We have all known great team leaders in the athletic world. But we really only know the image their managers and the media want us to see. I knew an incredibly successful business man who had the opportunity to get a mega superstar athlete endorse his product. After contemplating it, he chose not to go in that direction. When I asked him why, he said, “I’ve had a celebrity endorsement before, but he ended up getting in trouble and destroying his image and it hurt our brand because my product had his image all over it.” He went on to explain that just because someone can dunk a basketball, or hit a baseball, doesn’t mean they are worthy of representing his brand. In his words, “It takes more than the gift of athleticism, it takes character.”

Society often relates team-based leadership to a dominant athletic team, but that’s probably because of the hype that revolves around televised sports. Our profession is quite different. As firefighters, in society’s eyes, we are all lumped together, like soldiers. That’s how they see us, but for you, there is much more to the picture. You have a team that you are responsible for. You are concerned with helping that team reach their peak performance. You are serious about setting and achieving a higher standard for yourself and those around you. You know changes need to be made and you are up for the challenge. You know that a person’s title doesn’t mean as much as an individual’s desire to create positive change. If those last few sentences are true, congratulations for stepping up and being exactly what our profession and today’s society needs.

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