Many buzz words surround the topic of developing tomorrow’s leaders in fire and fire-based EMS agencies. Succession planning, professional/employee development, grooming policies/standards and more are all themes that have been researched and implemented with some success in some fire service agencies. Developing a succession or professional development plan is a good step toward this goal.
However, to achieve true development of leaders, we must exercise more effort than just formulating a plan; we must energize ourselves and the individuals to achieve this goal.
We’re all familiar with the characteristics that make a well-rounded leader in the fire service. Education, experience, community involvement, teaching, presenting, advocating, membership in professional organizations—these are just a few of the activities that contribute to a leader’s holistic development.
In addition, certain traits help a leader: focused; organized; prompt; efficient; charitable and predictable.
Moreover, organizations want and need solid leaders who brings energy with them and are capable of producing positive environments. Some individuals naturally possess these and similar traits, but for many these must be learned, developed and refined.
Whether or not you agree that these traits are critical for a leader to possess, we should all agree that none of us walked into our firefighter orientation course able to perform in these dimensions at the level we do today. Such skills and traits are constantly developing within us and shaping who we’ll be tomorrow. This is the key to understanding that our up-and-coming leaders also need development in mindset, skill set, attitude, action and decision-making, and the list goes on and on.
Progressive organizations, such as the IAFC, are focused on providing many opportunities to leaders to educate them on the challenges in today’s fire service. Such education may be wasted if the individuals, whose leaders chose to invest real dollars and time in them, aren’t allowed to exercise and refine their own leadership characteristics when they return home.
Let’s examine where our up-and-coming leaders are currently and where we would like them to be.
Many of our future leaders are company officers. Their work environment consists of leading a crew of firefighters through daily work duties, public encounters, personnel management, conflict resolution, emergency response and management.
In the totality of the fire service, these responsibilities are on a micro level; however, their current traits as individual leaders should indicate whether they may be successful with a transition to a larger forum. The individuals who possess, demonstrate and personify leadership at this level may benefit from selective leadership mentoring and development.
When we consider mentoring to be a component of development, we must not forget that rising leaders are responsible to seek education and perform well on their own behalf. Proper mentorship takes time, effort, energy and many other traits the mentoring leader needs.
Mentoring capable and energetic prospects brings many opportunities to enlighten and expand their understanding of their roles present and future. The present should invigorate their drive to successfully prepare for the future. It’s our responsibility to ensure this invigoration is successful.
A significant component of leadership development that can’t be understated is how important it is for current leaders—all of us—to ensure our own continued development; the process of development is never-ending. Leaders may individually value education above community involvement or experience above credentialing. Whether we believe one component is more important than another or that the elements of all developmental devices combine to form a skilled leader, we must recognize that no one of us will ever complete the journey to be the best leader we can be.
The resources available to develop current and future fire service leaders is abundant: the IAFC and the Officer Development Handbook, the National Fire Academy, CPSE, FSEDI, conferences and seminars, colleges and universities, and so much more.
We must embrace our responsibility and focus on continued development of self and others. With concentrated effort, leaders of today and tomorrow will become better prepared and able to manage, administer and lead the people they’re fortunate enough to work with and for.
William Hyde, EFO, CFO, CEMSO, CTO, MIFireE, is the deputy chief of special operations for the Rogers (Ark.) Fire Department. He serves as a director-at-large on the Executive Fire Officers Section’s board. He's a member of the IAFC On Scene advisory board; he’s been a member of the IAFC since 2009.