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Looking for the Executive Within

How many times have you heard a newly appointed fire chief question his or her readiness for the top spot? For the most part, new fire chiefs are selected because the governing body acknowledges the candidates’ past accomplishments and their theories about administrative effort, organizational necessity and future performance. A selection was likely made because the chief exhibited values that appeared to be in line with the community’s intended direction and can continue the department’s successful track record or take it to the next level.

As a new chief, how does one prepare for what happens after the appointment takes place? If you are a parent, you may already appreciate this feeling. While you waited for your first child, did you ever ask yourself, “Am I ready? Am I the right person for the job?”

You have zero experience, but there is no turning back. Maybe you read the books, watch a few videos and take some classes. That may help, but preparation and readiness is gained through experience. Ask people who have been there before you; learn from their experiences.

When it’s your turn, expect to make mistakes. Learn and adapt; what you learn from those mistakes provides even more experience. Remember, you are not alone; there will always be someone available to help you along the way.

As with parenting, executive leadership is not much different. In my situation, I was a much better parent before I had kids—and I was a much better fire chief before I had five bugles.

As a conscientious firefighter/company officer, I would regularly comment about the best way to run a department; it was based on my observations of administration and how their decisions affected the workforce. Now that I am a five-bugle chief, I see the value of exercising caution when making administrative decisions.

Executive development is most successful when you can learn from—and lean on—other chiefs. To help members prepare for progressive levels of leadership, the IAFC provides guidance through vision, information, education, services and representation. Executive development is an ongoing effort that should start well in advance of being appointed. If you are going to make changes in your department based on old ideas (good ideas you had 10 years ago), you may be implementing procedures that have limited operational value.

If you are a new chief, start making a list of all the things that are difficult about your position. The stumbling blocks you experience will likely be vulnerabilities your successor will face. Start training the potential next-in-command now. Give your staff every opportunity to experience executive-level leadership. Their apprehension of accepting a new role will be minimized when they are comfortable with the next step.

One of the best compliments to your leadership is the success of your entire organization. Your legacy as a competent and capable executive officer will be realized when the work you did in your department is sustained by those who come after you, allowing your effort to outlast your tenure.

As a member of the IAFC’s Executive Fire Officer Section, I appreciate the work that is being done in conjunction with the IAFC’s strategic goals. To “Lead, Educate, and Serve” sets the framework for executive development and succession planning.

We LEAD to impact our present needs and organizational priorities.

We EDUCATE to learn from our past and influence our future.

We SERVE to address the needs of the community and the demands of our profession.

The EFO Section continues to instill these values in the work that is done through the IAFC and in the best interests of fire service executives. As chief officers, we need to understand that executive development and succession planning is our job. Look closely at your members, those expressing and exhibiting interest; help them find the EFO within them. Our profession depends on it.


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