A Review of the Literature

SOME PEOPLE are natural leaders. They’re willing to step into the leadership role without a moment’s hesitation. They seem to breathe selfassurance. They carry an attitude which subtly speaks of their own suitability as leader of choice. Most others who aren’t so motivated to lead will acquiesce; it’s as natural for some to be led as it is for others to take the reins.

It’s been said that as long as two people want to ride on a horse at the same time, someone must be in the front and someone must be in the back. How fortunate for us! Can you imagine what a frustrating world it would be if everyone wanted to be at the forefront, leading the pack? Nothing would ever get done!

Does this mean that we should forget about going to leadership seminars, throw out the volumes on leadership, kick back and wait until someone with this aura of leadership comes along to lead? If so, then we could do away with promotion exams, give up studying, and go vegetate somewhere.

Avoiding leadership isn’t the answer. Leadership can be learned. It can be learned from studying, observing leaders who are effective, and putting into practice what’s studied and observed.

Being an effective leader in the fire service is especially difficult because it’s such a unique organization—a semimiiitary organization comprised of workers, both paid and volunteer, who are under tremendous physical and mental stress, who develop a special closeness from spending long hours together, who risk their lives together. It’s a service like no other, and it takes total dedication and application of what’s learned in the classroom to be a good leader.

Perhaps a brief overview of leadership studies will lend insight into what it takes to be an effective leader in the fire service.

Effective leadership has long been, and continues to be, a controversial issue in management. An absolute, allencompassing definition of leadership continues to elude students of management. Robert F. Kennedy defined leadership as “inspiring people to exercise their best qualities.”1* Dwight D. Eisenhower stated that leadership is “the art of getting someone else to do what you want done—because he wants to do it.”2 Still others define leadership as influence, as an art, or as a process used by a leader to get subordinates to strive towards the goals of the organization.


Prior to the 1950s, the study of leadership was based mainly on the “Great Man” theory and the trait approach. 3 The “Great Man” theory claimed that leaders were born, not made. The trait approach to the study of leadership identifies traits in leaders who are (or were) perceived to be effective and then ties that accumulation of traits to successful leadership.

The “Great Man” theory is obviously narrow and simplistic. However, the trait approach is not without merit, even now. The fire service leader or potential leader shouldn’t ignore it; he should observe effective leaders from all walks of life and then adopt those traits best suited to his own personality.

A study by R.M. Stogdill may be particularly helpful in this regard. He identified five physical traits, four intelligence and ability traits, sixteen personality traits, six task-related characteristics, and nine social characteristics, all related to one’s ability to lead.4 Caution should be used, though, when using categorical identification as a means of choosing leaders: Not all effective leaders possess all of the traits, and there are nonleaders who do possess some or even all of the traits; furthermore, the natural urge to stereotype exists when applying generalities to individuals.

*For sources, see page 110.


A study by John K. Hamphill attempted to evaluate and put into perspective the various studies made on leadership.5 His study was made in 1949 and is therefore dated. However, it does point out the shortcomings of studies that had been done up to that time.

Hamphill states that a definition of leadership “must include both the characteristics of a social situation and the characteristics of an individual.” More simply stated, leadership is the behavior of an individual directing other people’s activities in a particular social situation. In the fire service, the social situation can be emergency or nonemergency, official or nonofficial.

Hamphill says that knowledge of the group’s characteristics (or “dimensions”) can and should be used to develop leadership selection processes and leadership training curricula aimed at the specific needs and demands of the group. Leadership can be learned, and leadership curricula can be developed and taught. Treating leadership as an educational process, relying, in part, on learning the characteristics of the group, is likely to produce good leaders. The characteristics of firefighters can be well-known by a “thinking” leader because the group spends so much time together.

Hamphill’s criticisms of studies made before the ’50s, as well as his own ideas about leadership, were landmark in that they set the tone for the many variations of the situational approach to leadership management that were to follow.


The situational approach to leadership contrasts to theories that rely solely on what the leader brings to the situation. It theorizes that leaders are products of a situation. The leader emerges as a result of the situation, and people follow because they perceive that it will be a means of obtaining their goals. This approach is important because it recognizes that there is an interaction between the group and the leader. The leader who knows the group will be better able to adopt the most effective leadership principles which fit that group in particular situations. This approach doesn’t lend itself as readily to the fire service as it does to other organizations because of the rank structure, but there are situations when the leaders should acquiesce to the expertise of a subordinate.

The contingency approach to leadership theory, as proposed by Fred E. Fiedler, states that the leader’s ability to lead is based on the task situation and the degree to which the leader’s style, approach, and personality fit the group.6 This theory also recognizes that there is interaction between the group and the leader. Fiedler says, “If we wish to increase organizational and group effectiveness we must learn not only to train leaders more effectively but also how to build an organizational environment in which the leader can perform well.” Knowing the personality traits of a group and what the group desires in its leaders, we can then design a training program.

Robert House developed the PathGoal approach to leadership.7 He reasons that the most effective leaders are those who assist their subordinates in achieving both their personal goals and the goals of the organization. This theory readily lends itself to the fire service organization, because firefighters and their officers spend long periods of time together in the intimacy of the fire station. The leader can become acutely aware of the needs and desires of his subordinates, thus enabling him to help the subordinate fulfill these needs and desires through in-service training, seminars, and motivation.

Rensis Likert proposes the Four Systems approach to management theory.8 He categorized management into four systems: 1) exploitive-authoritative, 2) benevolent-authoritative, 3) consultative, and 4) participative-group. He states that the most effective leaders employ the participative-group approach and that departments using this approach were more productive.

Likert’s Four Systems approach may be effective in other organizations, but in the fire service, situations arise and the makeup of the personnel is such that a leader could not adopt one particular system and maintain it. For example, under emergency situations, the leader in the fire service is compelled to employ an exploitive-authoritative style; on the other hand, in dealing with an experienced firefighter in a routine situation, it would benefit the officer to use a participative-group approach. Thus, the leader’s knowledge of the firefighter and of the situation will dictate the style that should be adopted.

A study by Edwin Ghiselli, whose subjects were several hundred managers, noted that effective leaders exhibited such traits as intelligence, initiative, self-assurance and “supervisory ability.”9 “Supervisory ability,” as defined by Ghiselli, is “effective utilization of whatever supervisory practices are indicated by the particular requirements of the situation.” Fie believed that intelligence and supervisory ability were the two most important traits found in effective leaders. Assuming this to be true, intelligent fire service personnel could be trained in supervisory abilities.

Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt identified a range of leadership styles, from those that center on the autocratic boss to those that rely on the participation of subordinates.10 They claim that the less authority a manager uses the more freedom a subordinate will have. The degree of authority a manager uses depends on the situation and the subordinate. Knowledge of the subordinate’s desire enables the manager to adopt a style that’s effective.

Gary Dessler agrees. He states that a leader must adapt his style of leadership to the values, personalities, and motives of the subordinate.11 “Values” in this context may be exemplified by the way some employees drive themselves to do a good job, while others are satisfied with mediocrity. “Personalities” vary from employee to employee; some employees respond to authority and direction, while others work best when given flexibility and freedom. “Motives” relate to what will move an employee to attain the goals of an organization.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s and Dessler’s studies reinforce the theory that fire service leaders should temper their use of authority and direction based on their knowledge of the situation and of the subordinate. This also means that, even under similar situations, all individuals are not directed with the same degree of control.


A discussion of relevant management issues in leadership would not be complete without at least a cursory examination of motivation theory. Motivation theory can be broken into two categories: content theory and process theory.

The content theory of motivation assumes that the answer to motivation problems lies within the complete understanding of the people involved. Once the solution is identified, it can be implemented, and, through motivation of individuals, will change to the desired situation. On the other hand, those proponents of the process theory view motivation as externally induced.

As Robert M. Fulmer puts it, the proponents of content theory might say, “If you want to move a body of water, you don’t analyze the water or talk to it; you change the channel and water follows right along.”12 It’s the situation that effects the change.


Two proponents of this theory are Abraham H. Maslow and Fredrick Herzberg.13 Maslow identified a hierarchy of needs in human beings: physiological need, security need, social need, need for esteem, and need for self-actualization. According to Maslow, once a need is satisfied, the person will attempt to fulfill the next need in the hierarchy. A satisfied need is not a motivator, and a need that is not satisfied is a motivator.

Herzberg proposed a two-factor theory of maintenance factors and motivational factors. The maintenance factors correspond to Maslow’s physiological, security, and social needs. Herzberg’s motivational needs correspond to Maslow’s need for esteem and self-actualization. Herzberg asserts that the maintenance factors are necessary before a worker can even begin to be motivated, and that the need for esteem and selfactualization are the true motivators.

Pavlov’s “classical conditioning” and B.F. Skinner’s “operant conditioning” are the foundations upon which process theorists base their extrapolations.14 Pavlov conditioned dogs to respond to the ringing of a bell instead of food. As Pavlov’s research continued, instrumental conditioning emerged. This type of conditioning places either a reward or a punishment after the fact, and allows the subject to have some control over which he will receive. In simple terms, Pavlov said that proper behavior should be rewarded and improper behavior dealt with accordingly.

Skinner, expanding on Pavlov’s research, claimed that behavior can be empirically observed and analyzed, and consequently manipulated. Instead of stimuli, Skinner terms his rewards “reinforcers.” The problem with this “conditioning” approach to behavior modification is that it doesn’t take into consideration internal needs, drives, and other unexplainable influences. The leader’s knowledge of these variables is essential to effective leadership. Again, the fire service leader has access to this knowledge and should take advantage of it.

Victor Vroom describes the manner in which two variables, preference and expectation, interact on each other to determine the degree of motivation.15 Preference refers to the possible outcomes of an act and the outcome the worker would prefer. Expectation has to do with the worker’s expectation that the desired outcome can actually happen. Hence, according to Vroom, a worker will be motivated if that worker expects her action will lead to the preferred outcome. Vroom’s theory recognizes the all-important “differences” factor (differences in the way people perceive reality and what is reality), which is a key factor in being an effective leader. Vroom’s idea works well in the area of rewards for meritorious firefighting service, for example. It’s important to establish a rewards structure and keep it set; disrupting the structure leads to disruption of a motivational factor, which could bring on decreased efficiency.


A conference conducted in 1979 by the California State Department of Education created a profile of leadership traits.16 The conference identified twelve positive leadership skills and traits: 1) is respected by peers, 2) is a risk taker, 3) is energetic, enthusiastic, perservering, 4) knows what is going on, 5) influences, may dominate, enjoys power, 6) is self-confident, 7) is responsible, 8) has many new ideas and insights, 9) is assertive, 10) is diplomatic, 11) is structured, organized, and 12) is flexible.

The conference further concluded that a leader having the above skills should behave in an appropriate manner. The areas of behavior identified were in the categories of intellectual, personal, and interpersonal.

The intellectual behavior skills identified were: 1) figures out what is wrong; shows others how to solve problems, 2) handles abstract ideas and sees a broad perspective; sees the whole picture while others may focus on parts, 3) plans and follows through, and 4) projects into the future, seeing consequences of decisions.

The personal behavior skills of a leader were identified as: 1) judges appropriateness of own decisions, directions, or suggestions; gauges appropriateness of own timing in these same areas, 2) copes with unpleasantness, 3) is able to absorb interpersonal stress, and 4) is able to tolerate ambiguity, delay, and frustration.

The interpersonal behavior skills identified were: 1) listens to, observes, and recognizes the skills and abilities of others, 2) interacts with others easily, has the ability to inspire confidence in others, 3) perceives and articulates unstated feelings; recognizes and states goals, problems, ideas, and interests of the group, 4) has the capacity to structure social interaction systems for specific purposes, 5) follows well, 6) supports members of the group, accepts responsibility, is able to determine appropriate behaviors and courses of action, and 7) organizes others, directs activities, delegates responsibility, and establishes the mood of the group.

The problem with the California Conference study is that, although the conference identified leadership traits, it was done without taking into consideration those people who were to be led. This author believes that in order to identify effective leadership traits for leaders, the group that is to be led should be identified by characteristics such as needs, desires, and goals. A particular profession attracts people who have similar needs, desires, and goals. Once these characteristics have been identified, effective leadership principles that complement these characteristics can be defined. The California study could, however, be used as a model to enable the fire department to establish promotion criteria and develop subsequent training curricula for its leaders.

In a study conducted by Stogdill, Ellis L. Scott, and William E. Jaynes, the relationship between leadership and role expectation of subordinates was investigated.17 This study found that the performance of subordinates tends to be supportive, as well as supplementary, of the superior’s performance. Subordinates tend to do as their superiors do, not as they say their superiors ought to do. The findings of this study support the concept that in order for a leader to be effective, he should be a role model for his subordinates. This being true, there’s no better way to be a role model than to find out what the group wants.


J.F. Brown identified five general laws of leadership that are consistent with Stogdill and the California Conference.18 Brown’s five laws of leadership are. 1) the successful leader must have membership character in the group he’s attempting to lead; 2) the leader must represent a region of high potential in the social field; 3) the leader must realize the existing field structure; only when his leadership falls in with this will he be successful; 4) the really successful leader realizes the longtime trends in field structure; and 5) leadership increases in potency at the cost of decrease in freedom of leadership.

Brown’s claim makes a case for the leader understanding subordinates. The traits of the group help to form the social field in which the leader must work. Familiarity with this field will help the leader to be more effective.


Another study conducted by Stogdill examined leadership and its relationship to the personal interaction structure within the formal organization.19 He found that superiors who delegate more are regarded as better leaders by their subordinates. This study was conducted using U.S. Navy officers as subjects, a group that closely resembles the fire service.

Stogdill makes a case for delegation within a military structure. Delegation challenges the subordinate, making his job more fulfilling, which leads to satisfaction and higher morale. Higher morale leads to greater efficiency and the willingness of subordinates to accept even more responsibility. It’s an ongoing, circular process. A little delegation goes a long way in making for an efficient, happy organization.

Donald T. Campbell conducted a study of U.S. Navy personnel on ten submarines.20 Campbell’s purpose was to study the effects of leadership on groups. In a summary of this study he states that, “Measures of group effectiveness should be introduced into the study of leadership as the primary criterion.”

Stogdill conducted his study by asking subordinates whom they consider to be better leaders and why; Campbell’s final observation is based on what he considers to be an effective group. Group effectiveness in a nonproduction unit is, for the most part, a subjective estimate. This author feels that to base a study of leadership primarily on the criterion of group effectiveness in an organization such as the military or the fire service would be somewhat questionable.

Dean E. Frost conducted a study of firefighters in a large, urban fire department.21 The study examined the relationship between role conflict or role ambiguity and the behavior of the immediate superior, and how this role ambiguity effects the subordinate’s ability and performance. The study concluded that the “behavior of the immediate superior is related to the subordinate’s perceptions of role conflict and ambiguity,” and that “role perceptions effect job performance.”


This study implies that leaders should develop traits that will enable them to become role models for their subordinates. In the fire service there is a great deal of ambiguity pertaining to role perception. The firefighter needs to know exactly what his position is in the organization and what is expected of him.

Frost’s study also points out that role ambiguity leads to stress in the organization. This “boss stress,” as Frost calls it, can have a positive effect on upper management but a negative one on subordinates. This author hopes that the information obtained in this study will help to eliminate this “boss stress.”

In a study by Robert W. Rice, a review of research relating follower satisfaction to the leader’s score on Fiedler’s Least Preferred Co-Worker (LPC) scale was conducted.22 Rice suggests that Fielder’s Contingency Model be expanded to include follower satisfaction as well as task performance. He also states that these two criteria of leadership effectiveness are not necessarily linked casually, but are two important criteria of a leader’s success. This study further reinforces the premise that through studying the subordinate and understanding his preferences, effective leadership principles can be determined.

Frost, Fiedler, and Jeff W. Anderson conducted a study which examined the role of personal risk-taking as a factor of effective leadership.23 The study was conducted using combat infantry officers and fire combat officers. It concluded that leaders who more readily exposed themselves to physical danger and the danger of loss of position were rated as more effective by their superiors.

The leader of a group operating in a dangerous environment increases the effectiveness of the group by serving as a role model and gaining the respect of the group. By being brave and courageous under dangerous conditions, the leader exhibits a behavior that can be emulated by subordinates. This results in a more efficient operation. The study also points out that risk-taking does not necessarily make fire officers more effective in their administrative duties.

Gary A. Yubel and David D. Van Fleet conducted a study of military leader effectiveness by attempting to identify the leader behavior that enhances leader effectiveness.24 Performance emphasis, inspiration, role clarification, and criticism-discipline were some of the behavior traits identified in the study. Also mentioned in the study was the leader’s ability to be prompt, decisive, and innovative in problem solving when an immediate crisis or problem arose.

The study points out the importance of role clarification on the part of the leader, which helps to eliminate stress and ambiguity in the subordinate.

The aforementioned leadership studies don’t present a unified set of leadership principles. The majority of studies have been concerned with identifying characteristics common to leaders. In more recent studies, there’s a trend towards a situational approach to the study of leadership. Most of the studies mentioned examine leadership through the behavior of the leader. Very rarely does an investigator look at leadership based on the needs and desires of the subordinate.

In summary, it may be useful to cite research conducted by Chester A. Schiesheim, James M. Toliver and Orlando C. Behling into studies that had been done on effective leaders.25 They claim that 3,000 leadership studies have been done in the past 70 years. They traced attempts to identify effective leadership traits from before the time of Christ to the present.

Three distinct phases in leadership are thought have to existed: 1) the trait phase; 2) the behavioral phase; 3) the situational phase.

The trait phase began before the time of Christ and lasted into the 1940s. During this phase, the theorists attempted to determine a universal set of effective leadership characteristics. This approach has obvious defects, the most glaring of which is the assumption that leaders are born and not made (the “Great Man” theory). If we assume this to be true, then we wouldn’t be able to train leaders.

The behavioral phase of studies in leadership lasted from the 1940s to the 1960s. In this phase, attempts were made to determine a universal, general leadership style or universally best combination of leadership behaviors. The defect in this approach and the trait approach is that they do not take into account personnel and situational variables.

The situational approach to leader effectiveness began in the 1960s and is still enjoying a popularity with students of leader behavior. This approach attempts to determine a combination of leader, subordinate, and situational characteristics which interact to produce effectiveness. The approach takes into consideration the variables that affect good leadership.


A leader who attempts to use the situational approach to leadership must have knowledge about personnel and the situation in which the leader and the subordinate are interacting. Information about the situation can be obtained through job knowledge and training. Information about the personnel can be obtained through personal contact.

In the face of the enormous amount of conflicting data on effective leadership, this writer feels that the reader should sort the “wheat from the chafe” and use the style of leadership that suits the situation, the subordinate, and the leader. This can only be accomplished through diligent study and application and trial and error, until the leader develops a style that fits the situation, the subordinate, and, most importantly, the leader himself.


1 Gratz, David B. Fire Department Management: Scope and Method. Beverly Hills, CA: Glencoe Press, 1972.199.

2 Ibid.

3 Koontz, Harold; O’Donnell, Cyril; and Weihrich, Heinz. Essentials of Management. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co. 1982. 424-425.

4 Stodgill, Ralph M. Handbook of Leadership. New York: The Free Press, 1974.

5 Hamphill, John K. Situational Factors in Leadership. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, 1949.

6 Fiedler, Fred E. The Theory of Leadership Effectiveness. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1967.

House, Robert. “A Path Goal Theory of Leadership Effectiveness,” Administrative Science Quarterly. vol. 16, n. 3 (September 1971): 321-338.

8 Likert, Rensis. New Patterns of Management. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1961.

9Ghiselli, Edwin. “The Validity of Management Traits Related to Occupational Level,” Personal Psychology, vol. 16 (1963): 109-113.

10 Tannenbaum, Robert, and Schmidt, Warren. “How to Choose a Leadership Pattern,” Harvard Business Review, vol.

1 51, n. 3 (May-June 1973): 162-180.

11Dessler, Gary. Management Fundamentals, A Framework. Reston, Virginia: Reston Publishing Co., 1977.

12 Fulmer, Robert M. The New Management. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1978.

13Maslow, Abraham H. “The Theory of Human Motivation,” Psychology Revieiv. Quly 1943): 370-396. Herzberg, Fredrick. “Work and the Nature of Man,” New York: World Publishing Co., 1966.

14 Dessler, Gary. Management Fundamentals, A Framework. Reston, Virginia: Reston Publishing Co., 1977. 298299.

15 Vroom, Victor. Work and Motivation. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1964.

16 California State Department of Education, Management Team Conference for Education of the Gifted, Leadership Committee. December 1979.

17 Stogdill, Ralph M., Scott, Ellis L., and Jaynes, William E. Leadership and Role Expectations. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, 1956.

18 Brown, J.F. Psychology and the Social Order; An Introduction to the Dynamic Study of Social Fields. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1936.

19 Stogdill, Ralph M. Leadership and Structures of Personal Interaction. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, 1957.

20 Campbell, Donald T. Leadership and Its Effects on the Group. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, 1958.

21 Frost, Dean E. “Role Perceptions and Behavior of the Immediate Superior: Moderating Effects of the Prediction of Leadership Effectiveness.” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance. vol. 31 n. 1 (Feb. 1983): 123142.

22 Rice, Robert W. “Leader LPC and Follower Satisfaction: A Review,” Orientational Behavior and Human Performance. vol. 28 n. 1 (Aug. 1981): 1-25.

23 Frost, Dean E., Fiedler, Fred E., and Anderson, Jeff. W. “The Role of Personal Risk Taking in Effective Leadership.” Human Relations, vol. 36 n. 1 (Feb. 1983): 185-202.

24 Yubel, Gary A., and Van Fleet, David D. “Cross Situational, Multimethod Research on Military Leader Effectiveness.” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, vol. 30 n. 1 (Aug. 1982): 87-108.

25 Schriesheim, Chester A., Tolliver, James M., and Behling, Orlando C. In P. Hersey and J. Stimson (Eds.). Perspective in Leadership Effectiveness, Chapt. 1 (Ohio State University, Center for Leadership Studies, 1980).




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