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Is Morale a Reliable Indicator of Leadership Success?

One of the most over used words in the fire service is the word "Morale". The word morale is often used as an indicator of how well things are going within an organization. More often the word morale is only focused on when the perceived morale is low. Administrative leadership blames low firefighter morale on several things such as generational changes, the mentality of never being satisfied and the lack of understanding of decisions made by administration. Firefighters blame low morale issues on perceived poor decisions made by administration, the lack of understanding firefighter’s needs and being disconnected from the daily grind of shift work. Regardless of who is blaming who, the common theme is that rarely do we take the time to look in the mirror to see if the "other side" is right. 


Morale is fickle and by definition fickle means: changing frequently, especially as regards one's loyalties, interests, or affection. By this definition alone, using morale as an indicator other than that of one’s personal opinion will rarely provide constant reliable feedback as to how successful we are. Rather, by using morale as an indicator of success, we subject ourselves to inconsistent feedback based on emotion and personal bias. Morale is also a choice. No one can make you feel upset with a decision they have made, you choose to be upset. How you respond to anything is your choice and is rarely based on facts, but moreover based on opinion and expectations. 

So, what do we use as a reliable indicator of leadership success? I believe that there isn't any one thing, but there are some key indicators to keep an eye out for such as:

  • Do your firefighters conduct themselves the same whether you are in the room or not?
  • When you walk into a room, does the conversation shift or stop? Or do they bring you in for your input?
  • Do your firefighters give regular constructive input? Or do they have nothing to say?
  • Do you constantly have to follow up with others on projects or are they completed effectively and on time?
  • Do you regularly have to ask for help or do your firefighters take the lead and get things done on their own?

These are just a few indicators to look for and I'm sure there are many others. The key is to not let perceived morale effect the success of your department’s mission. Just because those around you have chosen to have low morale, doesn't mean that you have to follow suit.


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