Know as I know, do as I do, do as I did
Christopher M. Haley
In today’s fire service, leadership and management have become just as big of buzzwords as incident command, and homeland security. Fire service leadership has grown from something that leader’s “just knew how to do” into a studied and instructed science. Some departments feel that just by sending someone to an officer class, they are ready to lead and grow the future firefighters that they will command.
Unfortunately, many of the officer training programs one will encounter have grown into administrative development classes. We are developing a knack for trying to apply business management concepts to something that just isn’t a business. The success of tomorrow’s fire service pivots on educating our successors to be leaders themselves. It’s about teaching, leading and coaching; not business.
What is a new officer to do when they are faced with their first shift as a boss? You should do what you know, the job. If you educate your crew to do what you do, you are leading without any effort. Raise firefighters with the tactics, and beliefs you possess, and coach them as they apply those tactics. When you share knowledge with your crew, it helps build respect, and trust. They know they are dealing with a skilled, knowledgeable, and capable leader, who they will follow and respect.
As you progress through your leadership career, be sure to stay grounded with the principals that got you to where you are. Identify those principals and express them to the rank below you as you study the techniques of the rank above you. This will ensure that no one in the department’s structure will be promoted to a position with little education or insight. Always have your next step planned, long before you have to take it, at the same time showing your followers what it will take for them to make each step in their career.
As you can see, leadership can easily be boiled down to education. I recently spoke with a firefighter that was next up on the promotional list who was nervous about the upcoming vacancy he’d be filling. He felt that he wasn’t taught how to be an officer or leader well enough to assume the role just yet. Don’t let this happen to your department. As an officer, make sure your people are aware of your expectations and they will always have a common goal on the fireground. Train firefighters so that they are ready to take your job when you retire. Make sure they understand that educating their men. not just giving orders, is what will set them apart from the other so called “leaders.”
If you watch a great leader closely, you will see that he rarely has to ever lead on the fireground. Through ongoing education, and letting his men know what is expected, he is able to create subordinates that know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how to do it; without being told. That is the true measure of a great leader.
Chris Haley is a seven year veteran in the fire service in the volunteer and career sectors. He served as a Lt. A state of CT fire Instructor and as a National Fire Academy Safety Officer. He can be reached at [email protected]
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