Leadership Burning

There’s an epidemic in the fire service and this one doesn’t involve cancer, fitness, or behavioral health. It involves leadership. The evidence of this is seen at almost every conference as leadership classes fill the schedules. And since the explosion of social media, one doesn’t have to look too hard to find a page or site where firefighters are talking about leadership and what it takes to be a leader. There are a lot of great, inspirational leaders to follow in today’s fire service. From Rick Lasky to Mark VonAppen to Dr. David Griffin and many more. But I’ve also noticed that there is a trend among firefighters trying to make their own way, those trying to develop their own styles, build their own following, and create influence in their own corner of the fire service.This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however when people with good intentions have bad experiences combined with a lack of experience, it tends to lead to the bitterness spilling over into the social media world for all to see.

I’ve seen a lot of posts that start off “I had someone in my crew/station/department…” and it ends with a negative reaction towards the individual and a reminder to focus on those who are like minded and to ignore those people because “they don’t get it". The fire service is fractured enough as it is, just look to any social media post and you will the fire service devouring itself.Paul Combs just re-posted a picture depicting this very issue titled “Brotherhood Burning”. And being a leader in an organization is hard enough, regardless of the level, without airing out some specific grievances for everyone to see. I can’t imagine posting these types of examples and blasting co-workers and organizations actually help anyone’s cause.Nor does it really show a deep level of understanding of leadership, which is what many of these pages are trying to convey. If we are going to be leaders, let’s be leaders.

Leadership isn’t just about leading those who think like we do, it’s not about just worrying about those who are passionate and dismissing everyone else. And it’s definitely not about putting down people in your own organization because they don’t feel the same way you do or question what you are doing. Leadership is simple the ability to inspire others. It’s not the ability to inspire others like us or others who support us, it’s simply others. It is being able to get those around you to buy in to what you’re selling. And you can’t do that if you are selling out your team members or members of your organization to social media to make a point about people questioning you or what you are doing.

It is true that not everyone in your organization or company will have the same level of commitment and enthusiasm for the job. It is even true that there may be someone in your crewthat is negativeand disgruntled. That doesn’t mean you don’t find out what inspires them, what their motivation is. It doesn’t mean you leave them behind and focus on everyone else. And it definitely doesn’t mean that you utilize them as an example on social media as “that guy” who questioned what it is you are doing and dismiss them for the world to see. The goal of a leader is to bring everyone up, however that doesn’t mean thateveryone has the same ceiling. Getting the disgruntled employee to buy in to me, to want to work for me, to want to do their job is a leadership win. They may not show up at training seminars and conferences or settle their negative views of the administration or organization, but if I can get them to buy into me, get them to the place where they are making a difference at their level, then I’ve accomplished my goal.

If you are going to be a leader, you must be willing to lead everyone. You must be willing to go after the hard issues, have those hard conversations, invest time into those who require more time, and most of all, be willing to learn from failing. Figure out where your level of influence is and focus on that. Focus on those within your sphere of influence to make them better. I will always maintain that true leadership is hard. It is time consuming and the losses can accumulate pretty quickly. And you may lose more than you win. But that doesn’t mean you walk away. And it doesn’t mean you put on blast those in your way.

Stop talking about those within your organization who question your commitment and passion and start talking about how you influenced them and made them better. Don’t tell the world what the negative firefighter said to you and don’t tell the world to ignore them or look past them and to only focus on those like you. Instead, find out what inspires and motivates that person and tell the world how you were able to reach someone that others couldn’t or how you were able to influence someone to be better than they were yesterday by simply taking some time to invest into your people and being a leader.

 About the Author

 SIDNEY LUCAS began his fire service career as a volunteer with the Belle and Cedar Grove Volunteer Fire Departments (WV) in 1999 and currently serves as a Lieutenant with the Newport News Fire Department (VA) and is assigned as the Department Safety Officer. He has been with the department for over 11 years where he has served in various capacities. He is a former Chief of Quinton Volunteer Fire and EMS (VA) and a veteran of the United States Navy, serving onboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) as part of the Crash and Salvage Team supporting the Global War on Terrorism. Sidney is a graduate of the Virginia Fire Officer’s Academy and currently serves on staff.