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In my latest book, Barn Boss Leadership, which released this month. I discuss an individual’s sources of power. We typically think of stripes and bugles as indicating power within the fire department organization, especially in the fire service and military. However, there are several sources of power which do not fall into the “Legitimate” source of power category. Legitimate Power comes directly from stripes and bugles, however, this is not the most influential source of power. The United States Air Force Doctrine 1-1 states that leadership does not equal command, however, all commanders should be leaders. I discuss two of the most influential sources of power below, Referent and Reward sources of power.

Referent Source of Power comes from building relationships with those around you on your team. Individuals look up to you because of your traits and not the strips or bugles on your uniform. This “Power” is developed from showing you care, listening, and building the TEAM over the “I.” The individuals or as I refer to them, the Barn Bosses, possess the referent source of power. The referent source of power is the most influential source of power.

Reward Source of Power can come from acknowledging team members in front of the crew for performing an exceptional job. Reward Power, does not have to come from the chief officer level and many times means more when it comes from peers. The Barn Boss should ensure that team members are recognized and encouraged to perform to a mastery level. When they achieve this level, praise them for their commitment.

I encourage you to think through what sources of power you use in your day to day activities with your team. If you feel like you have to rely more on “Legitimate Power” to accomplish task, try these tips:

  1. Ask for your team’s opinion and value it.

  2. Look for ways of involving your team.

  3. Practice listening (not just hearing) to your team.

  4. Recognize crew members when they perform exceptional.

  5. Constructively critique but never criticize in public.

  6. Build trust by training and delegating meaningful responsibilities.

  7. Praise your team in public, talk proudly of your team, but teach each individual to be humble.

  8. Encourage a cross breeding of generations – leverage the strengths of each generation.

  9. Standup for your team when it is the right thing to do.

  10. Don’t accept mediocrity and your team will deliver exceptionally.

Be the Barn Boss!


Brian’s Book can be reviewed here:

Barn Boss Leadership, August 2016 publication – A unique blend of fire, science, psychology and fire service history provided by an author who has worked in the largest of metropolitan to the smallest of volunteer departments. True leaders develop their power long before they receive a promotion. This text is designed to provide a guide and self-awareness gut check for individuals of all ranks. However, the emphasis of this text is for the informal leader in the organization, who is the catalyst for action. This text is for the individual who considers mastery the minimum standard.


Be Safe and Train Hard!



Brian Ward, Author of Fire Engineering - Training Officer’s Toolbox and Managing Editor/Author for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference by Jones and Bartlett. Brian facilitates programs around the country on emergency response, training and leadership topics in the public and private sector. Founder of

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