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Ok, there are probably not fifty shades of leadership but there are many shades worthy of some commentary.

One of the most important things a leader can accomplish is to lead from the front and not from your office directing your subordinates “what to do” and “how to do it”. If you have that leadership style, then do it yourself, because you will be continually disappointed in the outcome. A great leader is the “tip of the spear” leading the organization to success.

Next, is to “hire right”. Hiring right is not easy as it takes a lot of insight as to the real reason the person sitting in front of you asking for a job in your department. You have probably interviewed hundreds of firefighter candidates. Think back to what the best candidate said during the interview and how they turned out five years later. Were they interested in leading, teaching, mentoring? Were they a good parent to their children and a loyal spouse? Or, were they just showing up at work putting in their shift and going home; not making a dent in the improvement of the fire department or contributing their knowledge for the betterment of others. Hire the person that will contribute over the long term and remember what other high performers said during their interview.

Remember the time you were sitting across from the Chief during the interview asking for a position to be a career firefighter. Also recall, if you wanted a job, you could have worked at K-Mart or Mac D’s, but you wanted a career and looked to the fire service for that opportunity. That candidate facing you needs to convince you that he or she will be a dedicated, hardworking and loyal employee.

There are many military veterans looking for work. If possible, hire one or several. They are generally well trained, motivated, have great skill sets, can follow direction and are loyal. Also remember, if they were in combat or in a theater of combat operations, they may have some trauma they bring with them. Be prepared to offer assistance to these individuals who have seen the worst of mankind and tried to do something about it.

On the other side of “hiring right” is to “terminate right” (with due process) those employees that are creating a burden on your department and other firefighters. Those are the non performers; the harassers; the chronic complainers; the non contributors; the lazy, lame and chronically ill individuals. You deserve the best team players as possible and these poorly performing or disgruntled individuals will damage or wreck your organization. Get rid of them during their probationary period if they are non-performers (do not extend a probationary period); train your officers to provide an honest regular appraisal of their skills, talents and deficiencies. Implement a personal improvement plan (PIP) that has achievable goals and standards with achievable timelines. If these firefighters do not make those goals, they will probably not get better and help them find a job somewhere else. Above all, when terminating a firefighter, maintain their dignity through the process and document the process well.

Next, is to respect your firefighters and create a hostile free workplace. There are so many lawsuits involving discrimination, hostile work place, retaliation, sexual harassment and other legal violations that divide the department and ruin careers. Be the leader that respects others regardless of your bias and beliefs and instill those leadership traits of TOLERANCE in your staff.

We are a "salad bowl" of individuals with many backgrounds, belief systems, religions and experiences. We do not fit into a mold and we do not want to allow that to occur in our departments. Diversity means many things and you need to figure out what it means to you.

DO NOT let the firefighters or fire officers harass, discriminate or violate others right to an enjoyable workplace and DO NOT “look the other way” if you see, hear about or there is a report submitted of workplace harassment, discrimination or other violations of your firefighter’s legal rights. Do not condone workplace violence against your firefighters by other firefighters. We read or hear about firefighters sexually assaulting other firefighters and that is not a behavior that should be condoned by any fire department.

Next celebrate those successes of your firefighters and staff. Share the glory and the spotlight with all of your staff. Everyone has a part in the success of the department and certainly to your successful leadership. I encourage that a good leader also rewards failures. Not a failure that injures or kills a firefighter, which has its own lessons, but a possible management or project failure that we should be learning from. If we do not learn from our failures, then we are doomed to repeat them. Learn from them and share those learned lessons with your firefighters.

Next, surround yourself with smart people, possibly those even smarter than you. As much as we believe we are the “know all, end all” to the issues facing the fire service, you are not. It takes a ‘village” to help with your success. Think of a quarterback that has no linemen or blocking backs to protect him – failure all of the way and traded to another losing team. Your “team” needs a lot of smart individuals to create the “miracles” of success for your organization.  

All of our firefighters have a life outside of work, families, and stressors. Unfortunately, with increasing regularity, our firefighters are taking their own lives. Teach your firefighters about mental health issues and how it affects us, what to do to prevent it, have the tools and mechanisms in place to prevent these needless deaths and teach your firefighters if they “see something, say something” to save a life.

There are many more “shades” of leadership but the most important one is to “be there” for your firefighters and staff. Don’t throw them under the bus when “it” hits the fan; remember you are the tip of the spear. Show up at the fire stations, have coffee or lunch with the firefighters, show that you are a human and possibly subject to human frailties. Attend the weddings, baptisms, funerals and other life events of your firefighters. It is important to them. Most of all have fun and make sure your firefighters are having fun in their jobs. That’s the least you can do.


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