Leaders can be an organization's greatest asset or its biggest liability. Any leader can be good, but the challenge is to become exceptional. Exceptional leaders are those who don't settle for status quo but instead desire to make a difference and leave a legacy.
Exceptional leaders have vision. Vision comes from having the desire, intellect, experience, character and capacity to recognize the environment you're operating in, understanding the challenges, obstacles and opportunities at play and then leading.
Having vision means being able to effectively conceive and share a plan in order to reach a desired objective. Share your vision, give your subordinates the tools to do their job, expect performance and then get out of their way. Reward good performance with increased responsibility. People value a sense of worth and contribution as much as a paycheck.
From day one, leaders should train subordinates to rise to the next level of performance. Professional development isn't an expense but a value-added proposition. Exceptional leaders create a work environment—by example—free of fear from failure; if you use failures as a learning opportunity, you should expect improvement from lessons learned.
Today, there are at least three distinctive generations in the workforce, each often described with certain attributes:
- Baby Boomers: They're team players who love social interaction at work and invest personal time to work their way up.
- Generation-X: They're skeptical, though determined to do a good job and seek a work-life balance.
- Millennials or Gen-Y: They're multitaskers and immersed in technology. Personal fulfillment and engagement are priorities; if these priorities aren't met, Millennials are likely to seek them elsewhere.
To lead in the midst of these differences, leaders must focus on the shared top values of all generations:
- Everyone wants respect, though each generation may define it differently.
- No one likes change; this has to do with what one will gain or lose.
- Organizational loyalty depends on context. For example, older workers may spend more time at the office because they've reached a higher level, while younger workers may produce more away from the office or at home.
- Everyone wants to learn; everyone wants to get the education needed to perform well.
To minimize generational differences in your fire department, everyone must
- Recognize that change occurs; for example, computer technology has moved from punch cards to floppy disks to thumb drives and now to wireless technology.
- Recognize value in workplace practices; keep what works from the past and be open to new ideas.
- Become curious about the unknown; everyone should desire knowledge to grow in job skills and abilities.
In closing, why do you do what you do? What is it that keeps you coming back? What is your motivation?
The ultimate answer for a leader is Ut prosem (Latin): "That I may serve."