The 7 Qualities Fire Service Leaders Must Possess — Courage

During this series we have been examining the seven qualities that are necessary for a leader to be successful in leading the organization and the team. You cannot be an effective team leader without courage. Part seven will focus on courage.


Courage is defined as “the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger or uncertainty.”

Courage is a powerful word, especially in leadership. You can see why when you look back to its Latin origin, Cor, meaning heart and then consider today’s dictionary definition: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty. Historically and not so long ago the word courage and courageous was often reserved for describing superheroes, Greeks Gods, cartoon characters and historical heroes like Martin Luther King and others.

It certainly wasn’t used until recently to describe officers or leaders in the fire service culture. In fact, historically emergency service leaders were seen and celebrated more for being stoic, powerful and with a more command and control approach. However, over the years the fire and emergency services have had leaders who demonstrated courage. Individuals who have fought for safety, progressive tactical changes and mental health understanding in our profession.

Courageous leaders are people who are able to push through uncomfortable situations. They are willing to make difficult decisions and do not back down when things get too hard. Courageous leaders take risks that go against the grain of their organizations and the profession. They make decisions with the potential for revolutionary change in their organizations and profession. Their boldness inspires their members, energizes the culture and positions their organization as leaders in societal change.

These courageous leaders have five strong leadership characteristic traits that need to be noted.

  1. Commitment to the Purpose or more commonly known in emergency services as the Mission, Vision and Values. It is critical to understand that purpose is essential to individual, organizational and industry success. Commitment is known to build resilience and performance of our emergency services industry. It is imperative that we focus on being purpose-driven as we execute to accomplish all we do to meet our mission.
  2. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Emotional intelligence — otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ — is the ability to understand, use and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. Emotional intelligence helps you build stronger relationships, succeed at school and work, and achieve your career and personal goals. It can also help you to connect with your feelings, turn intention into action, and make informed decisions about what matters most to you. It is well known that top leaders in the emergency services have a high degree of emotional intelligence.
  3. Resilience is the capacity to endure challenges and to gain strength in the navigation of these challenges. Leadership in its self can be challenging. When complex emergency services industry problems present themselves, you as a courageous leader must have a strong mind set and address them head on.
  4. Self-discipline is the ability to push yourself forward, stay motivated, and take action, regardless of how you’re feeling, physically or emotionally. Motivation and willpower contribute to it, as do persistence, the ability to follow through on your intentions and hard work. In addition to building self-awareness and a deeper understanding of your emotions, you need to exercise self-discipline and demonstrate poise — even in the most trying circumstances.
  5. Authenticity is defined as the quality of being genuine or real. Authenticity is foundational to courageous leadership. I have found that employees’ perception of authentic leadership serves as the strongest predictor of their job satisfaction, organizational commitment and workplace happiness. Research shows that organizations, which are comprised of leaders who are true to themselves, demonstrate improvements in both employee trust and performance.

In this seven-part series we have explored the seven qualities fire service leaders must possess. It is critical that all seven of these qualities be executed and practiced every day as a leader.

Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Rescue. He is the Executive Editor for The Fire Officer and Executive Director for the Command Institute in Washington D.C. A 36 year fire and emergency services veteran as well as a well-known international speaker, Cline is a highly published author of articles, blogs and textbooks for both fire and EMS. As a chief officer, Cline is a distinguished authority of officer development and has traveled internationally delivering distinguished programs on leadership and officer development. He also has a diverse line of training videos on leadership, rapid intervention team training, vehicle fires, hose line management, and emergency vehicle operations and fire ground safety and survival.

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