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Fire instructors play a critical role in the development of firefighters. When the recruit begins training, their first exposure to the fire service is the instructor. That experience can often determine the firefighter’s view of training and future classes. Looking back through one’s career in the fire service, or life in general, it is easy to pinpoint teachers and instructors who have made a great impact. What were some of the characteristics of these instructors? What was it about them that created such a great impact? Instructors are greatly impacted by those who taught them. Having an understanding of the characteristics of a good instructor will not only improve your teaching skills, but will also benefit the future generations who may be your students. There are five major roles for the fire instructor:

* Leadership role
* Mentoring role
* Coaching role
* Innovator role
* Change agent role

The Leadership Role

Leadership is defined as the ability to set the direction for an organization or program that others become motivated to follow. These are the “visionary” people who have the capability to draw followers. While this definition sounds very simple achieving such a level can takes years of experience. However, having a clear understanding of this and how it impacts the instructor can set a course of some of the most innovative leadership seen. Gaining those leadership skills can be developed over time by anyone.

The Five Myths about Leadership

When one brings up the word leadership, there seems to be an unusual aura or mysticism about it. The ability to lead people often is misconceived to be only for the chosen few. There are five general myths perceived on the issue of leadership:

* People can only be “born” leaders, not made…

This is probably the greatest myth given. It is so simple to believe. There is a little truth to the idea that some are born with the greater inclinations to leadership roles. However, EVERYONE has the capabilities to lead others and to develop leadership skills. The instructor must begin to search for those styles that give them the greatest ability to gain the following of others.

* Only those born with the best looks and greatest stature can be leaders.

This too is a common myth. There is no correlation between one’s ability to lead others and perfect looks. While physical attraction may draw people to you, this lasts for only a short time. Such a person will find that the gravitation to them ends when direction is set. As an instructor, do not focus on the outer beauty, focus more on the inner and often you will find someone overlooked that could be a great leader.

* The person “in charge” must the leader.

The ability for one to lead does not come from a title or rank. One of the greatest tragedies is when one assumes rank implies a following. There are many chiefs and training officers that find days of frustration and pain due to being placed into positions that they have not been prepared. As an instructor “search with an obsession” to find ways to improve your leadership skills and to develop those leaders around you.

* Once a person becomes a leader of a group, they are always the leader.

History has proven this myth wrong. Look back over time and one will find a period of a rise and fall of great leaders. Nothing is permanent- especially when it comes to leading people.

* Leadership is a component of management.

One should never confuse these two areas. Many feel the two are equal and intertwined. It is assumed that the leadership component arises if the management can be done. This is far from the truth.

Leadership through Training

As the training officer or instructor you have the unique opportunity to lead your department or organization. Few other positions in the department has the opportunity to provide the greatest leadership impact on the program. New policies and procedures need to be implemented? Where better to integrate them into the department, than through training. Need to make major changes in the department? Where better than in training? The new face of training has the ability to become the center point of the department. With all the needs of the program and the community, the place to gain this change or improvement, must be through training, the training officer, and the instructor. In a sense, the instructor is the “change agent” within the department or organization. There are two “impacts” that the instructor or training officer can influence the department.

* Direct Impact- this may be an impact that the instructor has primary influence. These may be in areas of immediate job description, those that immediately serve under you.

* Indirect Impact- in this approach the instructor or training officer impacts those who make the decisions. The decision making process may not come from the instructor or training officer, but they have the capability to influence those who do. This impact takes a little work and effects may not be immediately seen.

Influential Leadership

Influential leadership is the most critical tool for the instructor to gain. The key to leadership is not in the ability to move people or get people to follow, it comes in the ability to influence people to a direction that needs to be traveled. The story often goes that the new instructor comes in with an incredible and aggressive training plan and program. Everyone “buys in” at the forefront, with the desire to see great things within the department. However, everyone knows that change requires work and toil- mentally, physically, and emotionally. This is where things begin to decline. Without a strong influential leader, many great laid plans never come to fruition. It is in the key of being able to influence people at all levels that will make or break the instructor.
The Mentoring Role

Mentors are those that “come along side” those in need. They make it their sole purpose to ensure the success of those they are teaching. Make their success, your success. By taking this route, the improvements of the student become everyone’s success. From this, teamwork is built to last well beyond the classroom. Building other mentors into the program and training program will flourish well beyond the monthly training and classroom time.

The Coaching Role

Being able to coach those that are being trained, brings a new dimension to the classroom. Training and education are more than delivering materials and testing people. There is a coaching aspect that is needed to push people beyond their comfort zone, to get them out there on the edge, and challenge them to go even further. Your role as a coach is to motivate the people in your department to go to the limits. Helping them grow can be one of the greatest challenges of your career and some of the most rewarding times. Reflect on those times as an early recruit. Many of the skills and information were new. Over time these skills were developed and integrated. However, in the onset, they required moving beyond the comfort zone.

Coaching through Modeling

One of the issues that will be addressed throughout this book is modeling. As the training officer, the students and staff will look to see that what is taught in the classroom is what takes place in the department and on the scene. Take every opportunity to show that you live by what you say: on the fire ground, in the station, and on the drill field. These opportunities not only add credibility to the class, but also add integrity to you individually.

Coaching in the Classroom

The classroom also offers great opportunities to coach. Building teamwork, unity, and motivating students to the techniques that should be performed can be greatly delivered through coaching. Coaching can provide one of the greatest avenues for training personnel through motivation, leadership, and direction.
The Innovator Role

The innovator is the individual who is always looking for new ways to do tasks. These are the one’s in the department always thinking outside the box. They look for ways to improve procedures, processes, equipment, and resources to name a few. In the classroom, the innovator looks for new ways to teach material. They are never satisfied tradition. These are the ones who are out on the cutting edge in course delivery and presentation. They also look for new techniques, skills, and methods that effectively outdo the norm.

The Change Agent Role

The change agent is very similar to the innovator. One may even say that the two are interlinked in so many ways. The key difference is the innovator puts the new approach in action, while the change agent puts it in implementation. Look within the department or organization for the person or people who are the drivers of change within the ranks. The level of rank plays no issue, except to create a greater challenge.

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