Principles of leadership for company officers

Principles of leadership for company officers

A review of the factors which are the foundation of successful fire department administration

This article is condensed from a bulletin prepared by the New York Fire Department Division of Training tinder the direction of Assistant Chief James T. Ward. Designed for the guidance of lieutenants and captains, it is reproduced through the courtesy of Fire Commissioner Edward F. Cavanagh, Jr.

The Editors

LEADERSHIP is the art of imposing one’s will upon others in such a manner as to command obedience, respect, confidence and loyal cooperation. Leadership ability is brought into play in every situation where officers deal with other people. Your ability to use efficiently the talents of those entrusted to your charge will be the measure of your leadership.

There is glamour and prestige attached to the position of leadership. There is also a great deal more worry, work and responsibility. Good leadership is the hardest kind of work. It is attention to the details that affects those under you. It is knowledge put to work practically so that you may guide your men to work efficiently. No unit, however small, can function without a guiding hand and the leader is the force that gives direction to the unit. Without good leadership the group operates at random with its efforts dissipated in all directions. Success or failure is dependent on the man in charge.

The officer has full authority and power to enforce his will upon those he commands to accomplish his objectives. These should be used as secondary means. Dependence should be placed first upon strength of character and ability to lead. Encourage the men to work with you rather than for you. At the same time, hold them to the mark. The work must be done; hose must be stretched; ladders must be raised; fires must be put out. There must be discipline. A healthy, living, positive discipline is ideal and is to be sought.

Discipline is systematic training of the mental, moral and physical powers by instruction and exercise. Corrective action is also necessary in order to have men conform to the standards of the department. With discipline, things move in orderly fashion to a successful conclusion. Without discipline, chaos rules and success is impossible.

Discipline begins with training. The leader who trains his men well will have few problems. Disciplined units are easily recognized. They get results. Hose is stretched well. Forthright action is taken to get to the proper position at fires. The work is done with dispatch and in smooth fashion. Disciplined men overcome obstacles. The hose line or ladder is brought to place regardless of difficulties. The undisciplined seek every excuse not to do the job.

Achievement shows discipline

Proof of discipline is in achievement. The task of directing men is laden with difficulties, for some men will not want to conform to the rules laid down for the unit. The leader must require all under him to obey established regulations. In addition, he must observe them himself. These two points are essential to good discipline. Failure to insist that all men conform to the rules sets up the cry of partiality or inconsistency with its resultant disciplinary problems.

The leader should point his efforts always toward the ultimate goal, which is the bringing of the men to the point where they operate under self-imposed discipline. Men who operate under self-imposed discipline are ideal members of the department. They do the work because they know it is the right thing to do. They do the work whether the supervisor is watching or not. They know that it is their personal responsibility to do their jobs to the best of their ability. They seek improvement by study and practice. They know the satisfaction derived from a job well done. The leader should instill pride in his men. Personal pride in doing things well and correctly is followed by pride in the accomplishment of the unit. The fire department gives a man the opportunity to serve his community and the public. The saving of life and property is a noble mission and is something of which all members can be proud. The road leads in progressive steps from the instilling of personal pride, to esprit de corps, to selfimposed discipline, to success.

Fire department emergency operations must be accomplished, on time, in the manner or standard required. Leadership is the art by which others are caused to carry out the will or decision of the leader. There must be obedience. Obedience is the rightful subjection to authority and comes naturally from a disciplined team.

Leadership is the art of getting things accomplished. This means getting results. Officers and firemen must have first the knowledge, and second, the determination to comply with orders or else the objective will not be reached. It is better that firemen comply with orders willingly and wholeheartedly. Successful leaders find ways of achieving objectives while stimulating respect and confidence in their subordinates. But orders must be obeyed and objectives must be attained. The primary target is accomplishment of the objective and the primary job of the officer is to see that the objective is attained.

Qualities of the leader

Knowledge is a fundamental of leadership. The leader must know his job. He must be proficient in the techniques of administration. He must know thoroughly the operating techniques which apply to his unit such as apparatus, tools and equipment. He must know strategy and tactics used in controlling fire and emergency situations.

The leader must identify what needs to be done. He must plan and organize the way in which the plans are carried out. He must order and direct. He must supervise. Skill of the leader in the training process develops confidence in the men. When men know that the leader is capable they will obey more implicitly. Inspection is an essential part of leadership. The officer must go out and see for himself what is being done, how well it is being done and who is doing the work. Through personal observation he follows up on his orders; supervises; advises; praises; corrects; identifies those who do more or less than expected; determines the need to amend or revise his orders. The officer must be seen by his men for they want recognition for their work. Lack of inspection induces mediocrity, for men lose their incentive if inferior work is accepted on the same plane as superior work.

Inspection should be made with the individual responsible for the work. Favorable comments may be made to the entire unit or to the individual. The comment should dwell on the work itself, not the individual. Unacceptable work should be brought to the attention of the one responsible. This should be done privately. Repeated instances of unacceptable work by the same individual requires more drastic action. In all cases, unacceptable work must be done over by the person who did the work improperly.

The art of command includes the art of teaching. The officer must be skillful in the training of his men in manner of techniques and tactics. As they perform and execute to gain individual and team proficiency, the officer observes, corrects, advises and stimulates.

Training is a continuous process in the Fire Department. Human memories are frail and are not infallible. Fundamentals are slighted and many times forgotten. Yet they are the foundation of our department. Training in new subjects, and retraining in old ones, is a continuous process which must be guided by the leader.


The officer must be loyal to his superiors for otherwise he cannot be an effective member of the management team, nor will he gain the trust and confidence of his superiors. Loyalty to a superior is a most important quality which benefits both the recipient and the giver.

The carping critic of his superiors or of orders coming from his superiors contributes to ineffective command. Instead of being a carping critic, it is much better to be a constructive member of the team. If you are dissatisfied with a procedure or an order, investigate the background first. Find out why things are done this way. Usually, knowing all, the facts will convince you that there are very good reasons why the procedure was established or the order given. Should you still think that a change would benefit the department, make the suggestion and include your alternate solution. In this way, you have fulfilled your obligations to the department and to your superior. And if your suggestion is not accepted, your loyal acceptance of the prior procedure should be unquestionable. In addition the leader must be loyal to others of the same rank and learn to work with them with harmony and respect.

The leader must be loyal to his subordinates. He should assist all in improving their performance so that they do their jobs more efficiently. He should recognize and encourage their sincere efforts. He should commend those who have earned commendation by superior achievement. He should give honest and factual answers to their questions.

Confidence and courage

The officer must be confident of success. He must be determined to overcome any and all obstacles in the way. The leader must indicate to his subordinates by word and mannerism that he anticipates success in the operation. This confidence is contagious and encourages the men to extend their full power and ability.

The officer must display courage, both physical and moral. Courage is that quality of mind that meets danger or opposition with calmness and firmness and without display of fear. Moral courage enables the leader to do what has to be done to carry out his responsibilities. Many times he must select the more difficult over the easier course because the former is the right thing to do.

Moral courage must be displayed in many routine matters. Examples of the lack of moral courage are: (1) Failure to talk to a subordinate regarding his shortcomings and to set him straight; (2) unwillingness to sign a report containing unfavorable entries even though he knows they are true and fairly arrived at; (3) seeking the “good fellow” title or popur by easy-going tactics avoidresponsibilities that the rank demands. larity, c ing the

Moral courage in these routine requirements is often difficult for officers who face the most hazardous emergency conditions without thought of personal safety. Yet courage is demanded both under emergency and routine conditions and the leader must accept his full responsibility and discharge all of his duties.

The leader must display physical courage in times of emergencies with strength of character, calmness in the face of adversity, and bearing that contributes to the orderly achievement of the objective. In many instances he must look to the safety of his men making his own safety secondary.

The leader must display capacity to get things done. Ability to organize is an important part of leadership. An organized operation is well on the road to its successful completion.

The leader must keep his eyes on the goal. It must be realized that the important thing is to get the job done. Having set it in mind, he plans how he is going to do it and lets nothing keep him from accomplishing his objective.

The leader must set the example. Confidence exuded by the officer breeds confidence in others. Respect and courtesy displayed by him is reflected in respect and courtesy by his men. Personal appearance of an officer is reflected in the personal appearance of his men. Good habits by the leader encourages good habits in those he leads.

Good example should be given in carrying out the objectives of the department. The lieutenant who conscientiously carries out his duties contributes greatly to these purposes. Conversely, if he does not do his job or only goes to work when the chief shows up, the whole department suffers. He shows disloyalty to the program and to his superiors. He invites the disrespect of his men because he shows disrespect for required duties. Don’t be misguided into thinking that firemen want to be poorly led or that they do not want to live up to their responsibilities.

Know the men

Knowledge of his men is an indispensable part of leadership and com mand. A leader is able to employ to greater advantage the talents and capacities of his men if he informs himself fully as to their individual skills. He should not consider that all men are the same as to background, training and capacity as he will fail to obtain the maximum from them. The leader must be accessible to the men. Knowledge of them gained in personal contact will enable him to make better assignments and choose those most qualified for special training. bolstering determination is the placing of the job duties in their proper perspective. The completion of the work is the important thing. Knowledge by the leader that it is his responsibility to see that the recpiired work is de>ne properly gives him the goal to reach. He needs determination to reach the goal. Many problems crop up to harass all leaders. The good leader does not throw up his hands in defeat. He finds ways to surmount all problems, stay at the work and see the thing through.

The leader must be determined in carrying out his decisions. An aid in

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Initiative is the power of beginning. It implies self-reliant action. Initiative is the willingness to take action to obtain the desired objective in the absence of specific orders. The welltrained officer takes the initiative when conditions arise which would stop the progress of his command. Waiting about for orders when forthright action would fit the need displays poor leadership.

The leader must use foresight in his planning and while operations are under way. He must train himself to look at all of the problems, all of its possible repercussions, and all that it will affect.

Under emergency conditions he must be prepared for all eventualities. Possibilities of unusual occurrences are always present. Conditions may change rapidly. The officer must be aware of this and guide his men accordingly. When danger must be met, it should be met with the least number of men possible. When alternate positions give equal efficiency and one position gives greater safety, his course is to select the safer position.

Failure to use foresight is dangerous for it invites the use of snap judgment. Careful analysis and planning are the parents of foresight. Foresight will improve and develop as good planning develops.

The officer must be consistent in his policy and in his orders. Reversing one’s self over trivialities or “blowing hot and cold” leads to confusion in the minds of subordinates. Do not make changes when changes are not necessary. Officers who are too easy in the enforcement of regulations and are too drastic when something goes wrong, undermine their own effectiveness. Do not confuse stubbornness with consistency. Stubbornness is refusing to change an unwise decision when a change is obvious and wiser.

It is the officer’s job to train his unit to excel in teamwork. This calls for knowledge of the work, planning, foresight, efficient use of manpower, direction and supervision. Training the men to work together harmoniously and successfully is a keynote to success.


The officer is given the authority to decide a course of action, to order, to guide and to correct. His is the blame or the credit. If credit comes, he must pass it on quickly to others. If fault comes, he must accept full responsibility. Attempts to evade responsibility or to “pass the buck” only give evidence of inability to carry out the duties of the rank.

The lieutenant who tells the men on his platoon “We have to clean the tools, men, because the Captain wants it done” certainly reduces his own effectiveness.

Let’s analyze his statement: He apologizes for giving a necessary order. He attempts to shunt responsibility for getting the work done. He infers that the work is not necessary, but is wanted anyway. He is disloyal to his captain. He raises a doubt in the minds of his men as to whether or not the captain ordered the work. He displays weakness to men who want to be well led.

Those officers who accept full responsibility grow in stature and give evidence of their ability to command and their qualifications for higher office.

The successful leader applies these principles in a manner which lends itself to his personality and temperament. He must know the principles and be able to apply them in the proper way. He must constantly review himself and his methods to avoid the repetition of errors and to improve his techniques. If he adheres to these principles and seeks constant improvement, he will grow in stature and confidence to be the type of leader that men will follow. QQ

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