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Those Who Lead: When Opportunity Knocks

By: Thomas D. Kuglin Jr.


I received a group email from my Fire Chiefs supervisor, concerning what makes a great safety professional after attending a recent conference. He further spoke of the characteristics listed by participants during the conference and how that list could be expanded to any profession.  He asked that members of our department do “homework” and list the top 10 characteristics of a “great (safety) professional,” and bring to the morning staff meeting to compare.  As I read this, I not only felt compelled to complete this “homework” assignment but rather expand it from an outside-the-box perspective. I wanted to share my passion on what it takes to be a true leader- not just a list of single words describing what a professional is.  During the next morning meeting, I was asked to share my list.  I prefaced my perspective by stating it was not a list but rather my beliefs on what it takes to be a true leader.  My beliefs cannot be expressed by single words in a list as they are all as equally important. 

What certifies, qualifies, or designates someone to be called a leader?  It is not about the college degree you earned, what your title/rank is, or position in your organization.  Those are tangibles components.  It is having the intangible components that separate those who are in leadership roles from true leaders (consider—It is having the intangible traits that separate true leaders from managers, or those who are simply occupying a position of authority).  Those intangibles of passion, desire, heart, and conviction cannot be measured. One who leads not only has the ability to cultivate, and build relationships, but also has the ability to forge relationships that cannot be broken through adversity.  Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value (Strive to be both successful and of value to your organization).  Add value to the lives of others by taking a vested and genuine interest in them.  Don’t be a checklist leader who lacks the intangibles—have the ability to transform your vision into reality. 

Consider every interaction with a subordinate as an opportunity to motivate and leave a favorable impression.  Empower and influence others to buy into the mission of the profession and your organization.  Remember, people buy into you before they buy into a vision.  Be able to take others where they never thought they could go.  Make a difference and instill trust by exemplifying competence, consistency and serving their interests before your own.  Be the catalyst that’s the driving force that exceeds the performance envelope that others never knew they had.  Always stay committed to personal and professional development.  Never stop learning, applying and sharing knowledge.  Knowledge is power and means nothing if it is not shared where others can achieve success.  There are many ways to achieve buy-in gain trust:

  • Employing collaborative leadership where all team members have a voice.

  • Setting expectations to achieve a high level of transparency.

  • Eliminate micromanaging to allow members to flourish by telling them what needs to be done and letting them find ways to do it.

  • If members fail, coach and mentor them instead of belittle them.

  • Be a trailblazer!  Create a path for others to succeed and add value.

  • Give them credit when things work and take responsibility when they fail.

There are always going to be barriers.  It is how you handle those in the face of adversity and make mid-course corrections to ensure goals are achieved while remaining laser-focused on your mission.  Adversity is fought and won with spirit, determination and the will to except failure and persevere until you succeed.   Lead from the heart and the rest will follow.


“Your words and deeds must match if you expect employees to trust in your leadership”

-Kevin Kruse


Thomas D. Kuglin Jr.  Thomas is a 15 year veteran of the fire service and currently serves as a Battalion Fire Chief for Marathon Petroleum Company in Garyville, LA.  During his career, Thomas has served with large, urban fire departments in Metro Atlanta and Memphis, TN.  Thomas has served in the roles of Firefighter, Lieutenant and Training Officer.  Thomas is a nationally certified Fire Officer IV, Fire Instructor III, Paramedic and credentialed Training Officer through the International Society of Fire Service Instructors.  Thomas has an Associate’s degree in Business Administration from Keiser University and finishing up a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Fort Hays State University.  Thomas is also a contributing editor for the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Society of Fire Service Instructors, Fire Engineering Training Community and ISFSI State Ambassador.


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