As our Brothers and Sisters in Texas worked through historic snow and ice, a picture appeared on my Facebook feed. It was of Chief Scott Thompson and one of his other Chiefs working a fire scene. They had come in to provide some relief for their members working mandatory overtime. They were not sitting on the sidelines, they got into the fight!
Over my career I was given sound advise by other officers, witnessed examples of leading by example and practiced what I felt were leadership traits that were easy to duplicate. Giving your firefighters a list of expectations is sound leadership advise, but you must have expectations of yourself that are even higher than the ones you set for your personnel.
My Expectations (self)
Be first. This sounds simple, but it can be one of the most challenging things you ever do as a leader.
First person at the station
First to pick up a mop or shovel
First to ask a difficult question
First to do a training evolution
First to admit a mistake
First one through the door (fire and EMS)
First one to the rig
First one up at the station
First one to recognize a good job
First one to stand-up for the right things
First one to volunteer for something
First one up from the dinner table
First one to try something new
This list changes and is even longer based on rank and position.
2. Dump the bars. When an officer has to tell you their an officer, their not a leader! I have literally watched officers point to their brass to remind someone they were the boss, I was told by a Lieutenant to address her as Lieutenant, not her first name! A very educated Fire Chief I worked for tried doing station visits to talk to the members, every meeting turned into a non-productive speech by the Chief because no one would speak up. They didn't speak up because this Chief would arrive to the station wearing full dress uniform to ensure his authority was recognized. Throw on a station T-shirt and relax a little, you will be amazed how far this will go when having everyday conversations.
3. Stay engaged. While job responsibilities change with each promotion, were all still firefighters. Staying engaged no matter your rank is critical to leadership, especially during difficult times. As an Assistant Chief, I was told that responding to fires and conducting training was no longer my job and not to do it! I ignored this advise and eventually it was part of the reason I was later demoted! How in the hell can I do my job, if I don't know what the members need, what needs to fixed, what the issues are or how members feel about decisions were making. Staying engaged was the easiest way to do this and the most productive way.
As A/C I was overseeing several divisions, one being the training division. If I sat in my officer and waited for an email or call, How would I know truly what the issues were and how best to fix them? By helping with classes, watching the instructors and asking questions I was engaged and this allowed me to work on specific needs, instead of just guessing.
4. Don't sweat the small stuff. It's easy to get caught up in the everday things and in most cases these everday things are better handled at the Company level or by members of a Company. When leaders allow themselves to be distracted by the little things, they never address the real issues that can provide real change within a Company or department.
5. Humble for the Win! While thousands of books and articles talk of being humble, many leaders forget this trait. When we take a "look at ME" approach to leadership, we are setting ourselves up for certain failure. I like to remind new and future officers they are not always going to be right, they will make mistakes and Teamwork is always the best attack to any problem. Rememeber where you came from!
Leadership is difficult and challenging, but when we take time to listen, coach, mentor, communicate and remind ourselves of where we started, it becomes rewarding and less difficult to achieve. Get into the fight and lead!