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Finding Valor to Lead

In fire and EMS, heroism and valor takes many shapes. And though saving lives is certainly going to always be one of the highest values in the fire service, there are many others.

In fact, the others really provide the ability of the fire service to carry out its mission of saving lives and property.

As our roles change and we promote into a leadership position, our days of dragging a hoseline into a buildings or rescuing a trapped victim either end or are few and far between. But that doesn’t diminish the true values of leadership, including hard work, dedication and courage.

When I have the privilege to address a recruit training class on graduation day, I always tell the graduates that,

“Today, when you pin on that badge on, you’re a hero. Because today you have told the world that you’ll risk your life to save the life of another person you may not even know or run into a burning building while everyone else is running out. What heroics you do after today is just part of your job. So remember, from this day on you need to dedicate yourself to work hard and always look for the courage to do the right thing, save a life, jump into sub-zero water to save a child, stay fit, educate yourself and learn your profession inside and out.”

What holds true for these recruits still holds true for fire and EMS leaders. All great leaders have to be dedicated and work hard. But just as important, they all have a common trait—the willingness to take risk—and taking risk always takes courage.

Why is having courage so important for a leader?

Leadership always requires making tough decisions. Making these decisions requires courage. It’s this personal courage that allows a leader to take that firm stand when needed and work through difficult times and situations.

Finding this courage is a battle we wage within ourselves. We all have personal fears and insecurities, but those who have courage learn to deal with and overcome these fears.

A leader that exudes courage will gain commitment from those in the position to follow. Billy Graham once said, “Courage is contagious, when a brave man takes a stand, the spine of others stiffen.”

A leader who is courageous will find that it encourages others to want to follow and that it inspires courage in those followers.

Leadership takes hard work and the ability to work smarter.

We have all heard that nothing in life is easy and that success requires hard work. Leadership is no different. I’m not talking about working 12-hour days; I’m talking about working hard to make your organization a success.

In today’s environment we’re all being asked to do more with less, so it has never been more important that our departments operate effectively and efficiently. It’s incumbent upon us as leaders to create an environment that not only works harder, but also insists on working smarter.

Hard work has always gotten us through in the past, but only by combining hard work and working smarter can we keep up with the increase in everyday demands while, at the same, time seeing a decrease in available resources.

It has never been more important for leaders in fire and EMS to walk the walk—to build and embrace a culture of being courageous when it comes to hard decisions and working harder and smarter to get the job done in a safe and professional manner.

Jack Parow, MA, EFO, CFO, is the IAFC’s president and chairman of the board.

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