Leadership From the Little Guy

By Brian Ward

What is leadership? Who shows leadership in your organization? By definition, a leader is someone who leads people toward a common goal. So, are you the Hitler or the Churchill of your organization? Both were effective leaders, but one of them was not leading for the right reasons.

But what made them leaders? If you asked 50 different people what leadership is, you would probably come up with 50 different answers, but all would probably agree on certain traits. Does anyone ever bring up rank or age as a leadership trait? Although these may be signs of someone that leads and has experience, they are not what make someone a leader.

A leader is decisive, strong, knowledgeable, cool, calm, and collected in times of disarray. We all want that strong command presence when we’re working an incident. We want that understanding during troubled times. We want a leader that uses all of his traits, not his rank, to get respect.

With that said, a leader can easily be the little guy with no rank. How many of us have seen someone that leads by example, steps out on the ledge to learn new material, does his job, goes to school, enhances his career beyond what is required, and expects nothing in return? Those are the marks of a leader. You must strive for more because no one will ever give you something for free.

There have been many newcomers in the U.S. fire service lately. A lot of these rookies are right out of high school; I’ve seen and heard of the many deficiencies in some of these personnel. Sometimes, it’s basic things such as tying their shoes; sometimes it’s more technical things, such as running a chain saw. But we have to find a way to bring them up. We have to empower our one-, two-, and three-year seasoned firefighters to become leaders in their own right. We must instill in them the traditions and the brotherhood of the fire service, as well as instruct them in the science of firefighting. We must teach them about building construction and structural collapse, and point out the Frank Brannigans, the Chief Vinnie Dunns, and others who have made contributed to fire science. They must learn about the origin of the Maltese Cross and the history behind the badge–it’s not just a shiny piece of metal to wear.

Any member of the fire service can teach these lessons. You don’t have to be a 20-year veteran to know the history behind the badge or why these subjects are important. You may be a two-year probie, but you can still have a powerful impact on the first day of a rookie. To all the inexperienced people, listen up, and to the already seasoned, lead by example. Don’t be afraid to step out there, even if it is only in the station–a great starting point for developing leadership skills. General Robert E. Lee only promoted personnel that kept an orderly tent. Eventually, after you prove yourself, you have the opportunity to show what you can accomplish. Stick with it and show you can be responsible.

Brian Ward is a Training Officer for Gwinnett County (GA) Fire Department and the vice chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers. Brian is an advocate for the State of Georgia Everyone Goes Home program. He holds an associate’s degree in Fire Science and is pursuing his bachelor’s degree. He is also the founder of FireServiceSLT.com.

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