United States Army Manual defines the leader as “anyone who by virtue of assumed role or assigned responsibility inspires and influences people to accomplish organizational goals.”
The Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1, Leadership and Force Development describes leadership as “Leadership is the art and science of influencing and directing people to accomplish the assigned mission.” The document goes on the say that “Leadership does not equal command, but all commanders should be leaders.”
We all certainly know it when we see it. When we hear the words “leader” or “leadership,” automatically certain people come to mind. Whether it was their steadfast presence on a tense call or maybe it was how an officer mentors their firefighters. We all have that sense of relief when we know a certain individual will be leading a scene – I can think of several incidents over the years where it could have got squirrely very quickly but the IC’s on scene used their presence of command, the tone of their voice, their experience and trust in their crews to beat the odds. Where did they learn these traits from?
Some people believe that leaders are born while others are developed. In this month’s Fire Engineering Magazine, Bobby Halton briefly discusses this theory of nature versus nurture and the considerations of being born with a certain set inclinations and predispositions which some believe is the foundation for leaders. However, Bobby Halton goes on to discuss the other aspect of developing leaders through the environments which surround us growing up. If you review the two excerpts above from the U.S. Army and the Air Force, neither statement references born versus developed. Furthermore, it does not specifically reference rank or seniority as being a leader but they both reference the power of influence and inspiration to achieve a goal.
In my book, Barn Boss Leadership (under review) we take the stance that leaders are developed through experiences and mentoring by wiser individuals. As we develop throughout our careers it is the experiences (from incidents, training, and gaining knowledge) that drives us to become better leaders. As David Rhodes and I discussed a few years back, it is the job of the veteran to show the way, provide opportunities and lead by example. If you are up and coming – ask for the hard assignments, take on additional responsibilities and listen to the experience surrounding you. If you are the veteran – give those below you a chance, share your knowledge, and say yes more than no. Mentoring is key but it is the responsibility of the up and comer to position themselves to be mentored. This is done by positioning yourself to display your enthusiasm, motivation and desire as a student of the service.
Be safe, train hard and go mentor someone!
Brian Ward, Author of Fire Engineering - Training Officer’s Toolbox and Managing Editor for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference. Brian serves on the ISFSI Board of Directors. He is a member of the Georgia Smoke Divers, currently working on his Master’s in Organizational Development from Columbia Southern University and Founder of FireServiceSLT.com.