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Company Officer Leadership: Leadership 101

At this point in your fire service career, you've probably attended leadership conferences or classes, read leadership books, watched leadership videos and heard every leadership term known to humanity!

There's Lincoln of Leadership, the Painful Side of Leadership, 360-Degree Leadership, 220 Degrees of Leadership, Servant Leadership, Bootstrap Leadership and Effective Leadership. The list seems to go on and on.

People tend to talk about and try to define leadership in buzzwords and gimmicky sayings or through the quotes of others. We talk about things like leadership styles, qualities, traits, theories and models, and we talk about all this stuff until we're sick of it.

My question to each of you is, "Why do we make leadership so hard?"

We all have an idea of how we want our leaders to act, so it should be pretty easy to act that way ourselves once we become leaders, right? Yeah, "shoulda, woulda, coulda," as they say.

Let's look at four leadership traits we all want our leaders to have—and we should have ourselves.


Can you be a good leader without integrity? Will anyone follow you (willingly)? Wikipedia defines integrity as "a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures…"

Isn't that what everyone wants: a little consistency in our leaders? It's tough to work for someone if you don't know what wall they're going to bounce off of with every decision.

Accountability—or Answerability

As leaders, we all hold our subordinates accountable, making them answer for their actions—or at least we should. But do we look inward and hold ourselves accountable? When is the last time you saw a leader in your organization step up before the troops and say, "My bad, dumb idea, sorry about that, won't happen again!"


Do you want the leadership of your department to be unethical? Not many hands went up!

Moral philosophy, character, knowing right from wrong: with all those definitions of what ethics is, how do we apply it to what we do on a day-to-day basis?

To me, it's simply doing the right thing for the right reasons. Before I make a decision that's going to affect someone else's life, I examine why I'm making the decision I am and determine if it's the right thing to do.

Sounds simple doesn't it? But it's not. If it was easy, everyone would make ethical decisions, but they don't.

Don't believe me, wait until the next election cycle and watch the various candidates (yes, in every party) explain, justify, apologize for and recant the things they say and do, all based on ethics.


I like to tell newly promoted folks, "Congratulations on your promotion! Now, just remember, you didn't get here alone." Along the way to assuming a leadership role we all probably had a mentor or two.

Is there anything wrong with including those in your organization who may be affected by a pending decision in the decision-making process? It doesn't mean you have to do what they say, but you should consider it. Collaboration in your department should be viewed as a very good thing. I don't know of any department where everyone has only one job to do, regardless of their title. To be the best we can, what's wrong with helping each other out (kind of the definition of collaboration by the way)?

Here's this article in four sentences:

  • Be consistent with your decision-making process and your leadership style.
  • Hold yourself just as accountable as you hold your subordinates. It's called leading by example!
  • Do the right things for the right reasons.
  • Let others participate; it really isn't all about you.

And finally two more pieces of advice that make for a good leader:

  • Don't promote for the money or to get your "high 3" before retirement. Promote because you want to lead others.
  • Most importantly, lead with passion. If you're a leader, it's your responsibility to care.
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