Chief Steve Kraft, Richmond Hill Fire & Emergency Services, Ontario, Canada, keynoter of this morning’s Opening Ceremonies, gave his audience an assignment: “When you leave here today, start working on things [those things you need to improve to be a great officer]. Don’t wait for the chief, the assistant chief, your captain, the union president, or anyone else for that matter to solve the issues your department is currently experiencing because they can’t solve them alone. We fail as a team, and we succeed as a team. I’m asking everyone in this room today to just try.”
Kraft reviewed some of the factors that might cause some firefighters to become negative even though “we all know this is the best job in the world.” One possibility Kraft discussed was “having a few officers who don’t understand or don’t appreciate the influence they have on their people and their department or understand how their lack of positive leadership is hurting their department and the fire service in general.” Officers include lieutenants all the way up to the fire chief, Kraft emphasized.
Officers have an incredible opportunity to lead and must never, ever disrespect that opportunity, Kraft noted. He presented pointers for being a great officer; but, first, Kraft identified the overriding prerequisite for being a great officer: wanting to be a great officer.
The five important marks of a great leader, according to Kraft, are the following (summarized):
- Be a great coach. You must encourage and motivate your firefighters. Show them what good performance looks like; monitor them every day. When you see a mistake, correct it. Help your people to grow.
- Show your people you care. Caring goes beyond seeing them at work. Take a personal interest in their life, and definitely be there when they need you most.
- Learn from your mistakes. Do not be ashamed to make a mistake. When you make a mistake, it means you are trying new things, making things happen. (I am not suggesting that we make the same mistakes over and over, but when trying new things and to grow as a leader, you will make some mistakes.) Leadership requires the willingness to fail. You can get knocked down, but the great leaders get back up. A great leader makes mistakes, takes responsibility for them, and then gets back up and tries again.
- Lead by example (in a positive manner). Everyone leads; that is one of the problems confronting our departments today. Leading by example is great when officers demonstrate strong leadership , talk about the good things that are going on, teach young firefighters how to be great firefighters, follow policies and procedures, attend training sessions, and do all the right things. However, officers who are negative and go out of their way to consciously destroy the department are also teaching by example. Strong leaders lead in a positive way, but it’s been my experience that negative leaders can be louder and more forceful. We need to stop this. We can’t let the negative leaders destroy the fire service. We need to stand up and tell them to STOP.
- Have the right attitude. Nobody wants to be led by someone who always sees the negative side of things. Great leaders have the right attitude and use it to influence their people to get things done. They don’t complain about the chief, C-shift, or the newest procedure unless they’re prepared to talk to the right people. Great leaders understand that you never complain to people below you because that can’t help solve the problem, so it’s just gossip.
Cultivating these habits will help each officer to be a leader, not just a position.