One of the key leadership functions for any fire department is developing the next generation of leaders. Dr. Harry Carter writes, "The knowledge that is within the minds of your veteran members will not automatically find its way into the brains of your younger and newer members" (Carter 2014).
We can't fulfill our mission of service if we don't cultivate leaders today for service tomorrow. Our focus needs to be a vision that keeps one eye on the future and the other on developing those coming behind us. We owe it to them, those who mentored us and those we serve.
There's a four-word process that sums up a leadership-development plan. Adopting these words as the foundation for leadership development in your department will provide the basis that will successfully carry any fire department into the next generation. The words are Share, Listen and Let Go.
Step One: Share
The English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) coined the phrase, "Knowledge is power." This simple quote can be interpreted a powerful way when it comes to leadership development. Sharing what one knows with others is a potent act that is critical to developing leaders.
Imparting knowledge through formal, organized coursework as well as informal chats creates a learning environment that passes along critical information and establishes a mentoring relationship. Sharing provides essential seeds for an emerging leader's growth: information that promotes critical decision-making and the traits of magnanimity and humility. Freely sharing knowledge is the single most important step in leadership development.
Step Two: Listen
As knowledge is being shared, the act of listening (by mentors) serves an essential purpose in gauging an emerging leader's development.
First, listening ensures the knowledge being imparted is being processed properly and used actively in emerging critical decision-making.
Second, mentor listening creates an environment where the emerging leader can uninhibitedly ask questions and test their own ideas about their leadership style.
Third, mentor listening ensures the emerging leader is on the leadership path for the right reason; that is, to continue serving others. Emerging leaders who exhibit strong, self-centered egos or appear to corrupt the concepts of power need to be guided to the right path early and quickly. The organization will fail when leaders serve themselves and fail to serve others.
The time and place to ensure the next generation of leaders will perpetuate the organization's progress is during listening.
Step Three: Let Go
Energy invested in any project naturally generates an interest in its success. At a point in time, the emerging leader will take the reins and lead. Letting go is difficult, but doesn't mean that the organization or mentor abandons the new leader to their own demise. It means the new leader, the mentor and the organization take a new path charted for success. Mentors shift from teacher to resource and stand ready to offer a candid course correction to prevent the new leader from failing.
Organizations that mentor new leaders effectively see this as the healthy evolution of their process. The new leader, armed with knowledge and coached through listening, begins the journey of leading. If the organization has done its work well, the new leader will almost immediately continue the cycle. When the new cycle begins, mentors and organizations can take pride in having perpetuated consistency and ensuring the organization's longevity.
The development of a strong leadership cadre is essential to a fire department's service mission and overall success. Adopting a leadership philosophy of Share, Listen and Let Go creates the right environment for fire departments desiring to remain progressive and fulfill their mission.
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, writes, "If you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away." Paraphrasing Collins, investing in developing leaders is a risk no department can afford to pass up.