I believe fire service leadership is a continuous process that can be broken into four distinct steps. These steps are represented in what I call the “Fire Service Leadership Continuum.”
The Four Steps
#1 – Becoming A Leader
This is the step that is the beginning of your development as a leader. In this step, you must follow before you can lead. This is where you begin to develop your skills and follow your leaders. Through this process you will begin to learn what being a leader is all about.
#2 – Moving Into The Position
At this point in the continuum, you have become the leader and are now moving into a leadership position. This can often be the toughest step in the continuum. At this point, you will often be asked to lead men and women who were previously your peers. This can be a difficult transition, but this is the point at which you establish yourself as a leader. You must inform your team what you expect of them and what they can expect of you. This step must be handled with confidence, tact, and professionalism. At this point, it is vital that you establish the line between business and friendship for both you and your crew.
#3 – Being The Leader
After you have established yourself as a leader, you have to lead your people. This step in the continuum requires a significant amount of work. You have to follow through on holding your team up to the standards you and your department have established. Furthermore, you must hold yourself to the standards your team and you have established for yourself. This is where you set the example for others to follow.
#4 – Growing Future Leaders
John C. Maxwell, a famous leadership author and speaker, has often said that a leader can have the greatest impact on an organization by helping other leaders succeed. As a leader, you should know and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each firefighter on your crew.
It is part of your job to foster their strengths and help them overcome their weaknesses. This is the point at which you prepare others to take your place and continue the process after you move to higher levels of responsibility. The legacy you leave behind will speak volumes about the quality of leader you are. You want to ensure that those who come after you are prepared to continue the work you started.
The link between each step in the continuum is feedback. Constant 360 degree feedback is vital to your success as both a firefighter and a leader. 360 degree feedback is feedback that comes from all directions. You should seek feedback from supervisors, subordinates, and peers alike. Combined with self-evaluation, this will give you the most complete picture of where you stand and what you need to improve upon.
These steps all work in concert to propel us into to leadership roles. In this series of articles we will discuss each step and how you can apply the principles of them to your career.
If you are a firefighter looking to become an officer or an officer looking to become a chief, this is for you!
Photos courtesy of and copyrighted by Robert Simmons.
Find the complete series here!
Part 1: Introducing the Fire Service Leadership Continuum
Part 2: Becoming A Leader (The Pillars)
Part 3: Moving Into The Position
Part 4: Being The Leader
Part 5: Growing Future Leaders
Part 6: 360 Feedback (Putting It All Together)