When I first ventured into my career (firefighter), I was living the dream. As the years started flying by, It didn’t take long before I became a little confused. As I prepared to promote in the old system, I was told how I needed to change if I ever wanted to lead people. I needed to act like a leader. It seemed I was too close to those around me and therefore unable to discipline them. I felt my bosses didn’t notice how my shift was the most cohesive, highly productive in the department and how I knew each member of the shift personally and cared for them. How could I be wrong? They guys would do anything I asked of them because they knew I had their best interest in mind. I didn’t know or understand that I was learning/practicing a form of leadership. I was just being me. It still somehow escapes me that people will follow my visions. I am humbled. I tell you this, not to boast, but rather make a point,
“Leadership is how to be, not how to do” (Frances Hesselbein)
One statement new firefighters seem to always make is “I want to be in a department that has potential for advancement”. This is coming from a rookie that hasn’t worked a day yet. You have to ask yourself, “why do you want to be in charge?” Do you really have an understanding of the responsibility associated with being the leader? Those that follow you are directly impacted by your vision and influence. The allure of leadership is somehow mixed up with the notion that with it comes power. The reality is that with leadership comes great responsibility, usually not seen or taught in classes. Now, I must define the leadership I’m referring to is that of a fire service officer. Personal leadership influences organizations with associations to the culture, another topic for discussion later…
Servant leadership is the style du jour. “I feel my time has come.” I don’t have to change or act to fit into a now recognizable style. I’ve learned a lot from my past leaders, mostly how I was not like them, and that’s OK with me. I really did learn a lot. I watched the impact that the leaders had on those around me. The old style was effective in producing exactly what we outlined and usually nothing more. That was OK as well. We served up a pretty defined product that really did not need much more than that. Today’s communities, economy and mores demands more of the same profession. The leaders in my business are striving to change the traditions of the past with people who grew up learning how they should act.
Authentic leadership must be a reflection of the real you, not an act.
Servant leadership isn’t the only effective style. I will argue the most effective is the one that is sincere. Steve Jobs had been followed as an authoritative dictator. It’s hard to argue that his style of leadership wasn’t effective. He was passionate about his pursuits, and he didn’t act like most CEO’s in the biz. He is my one of my favorite CEO’s, not for his leadership style but his drive and passion. I would have followed Steve Jobs (as a boss), because I would have believed what he told me. That’s another topic, trust, the foundation of leadership which would validate the sincerity.
The followers are there, they are all around you looking for the real deal.
I’ve watched several friends work hard in serving up what they had learned in leadership classes only to experience failure in application. Understanding the tenants of leadership is essential to shaping “how to be.” The best advice I could give today’s upwardly mobile fire service leaders is, “don’t act, just be”. This understanding will likely take time to set in, just as it has for me. I am continuing to follow education in leadership, because I am trying to hard to make sure I don’t screw this up. If I have people actually following my vision, I better be right and I can’t be acting.
And one more thing, I’m still living the dream. Maybe that has something to do with it as well.