Firefighters are already made for more. We are natural leaders, often putting our lives on the line for strangers. Here are some additional ways to be a good leader in our stations.

Leadership is important in any profession, and ours is no different. Just like in business, leaders don’t stay in business for long if they aren’t demonstrating leadership skills. Leadership is a demonstrated skill, day in and day out.

Being a leader in the fire service is earned and not just given with a promotion to a rank. And it’s hard work, a continual process, no matter how long you’ve been in the service. Sometimes, there is little reward, too. As they say, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

So, what are some ways to improve your leadership skills? Here are seven ways to rise to the top, according to Chief Marc Bashoor in Fire Rescue, March 2019:

  1. Be Professional. First and foremost, being professional does not equal receiving a paycheck. Professionalism is a state of mind, a statement of education and the demonstration of action. Not one leadership, mentorship or management class teaches you how to lie. Those classes and experiences have taught us how to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.
  2. Be responsive. We have a responsibility to serve. Make sure you have a routine method of getting back to those who call upon you, whether by email, phone, social media message or through any other means. Constituents, customers, residents, employees, volunteers, media, whomever it is, responsiveness is your responsibility. Call the media back – they can be your best friends or your worst enemies. Establishing a level of responsible responsiveness will be crucial to building relationships and managing issues when the stuff hits the fan.
  3. Be a source of outreach. Transparency doesn’t just come from responding to inquiries. Sometimes, the right thing to do means you’re out in front of the story before it becomes a story. This is the tricky part for officers – just because you decide to be transparent and get out in front of it, doesn’t give you a pass to lie or twist the truth. Your PIO, mentors or trained communicators can help you navigate those waters.
  4. Be a mentor. Helping others achieve a transparent leadership style is part of our responsibility. While there’s no such thing as perfection, there are thousands of demonstrations of mentorship for you to pick from. And don’t think of mentorship as a cliché term – it can truly change and inspire someone.
  5. Be inspirational. Your actions and demonstrations of leadership provide the inspiration for others to serve. It’s easy to do the wrong thing, but when you can do the right thing and it shows, you knowingly or unknowingly become an inspiration for others who might be experiencing similar issues in their department.
  6. Be safety-minded. Sometimes, people do bad things. Our job as firefighters is to ensure we’ve not only demonstrated safe practices, but also provided every opportunity for others to learn and demonstrate work through safe practices and environments. When somebody does something bad or wrong – it’s time for truth. Truth cannot be in the eye of the beholder. Everybody sees through the lies, and whether you form the opinion for them with transparency, or they form their own opinion through your negativity and dishonesty – an opinion will be formed, one way or the other.
  7. Be energetically enthusiastic. It’s hard to be a firefighter. It’s even harder to be a happy and enthusiastic firefighter; however, the public you serve and the people you lead depend on your energy and enthusiasm to do the right thing and to be able to accomplish their mission.

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None of these items are tangible, are they? That’s why it’s not easy – there is nothing to directly measure performance in the seven traits above. How they are accomplished is through influence, not rank.

Weak leaders choose to lead with rank. They use their title to get crews to perform tasks because they have not built the relationship of trust with them.

Great leaders, on the other hand, lead by example, they hold themselves accountable and they are people we want to work for and with. They treat their rank as a responsibility, not a power.

An important note to remember – a true leader will make some difficult decisions. And some of them will be resented. Instead of trying to be well liked, strive for credibility and respect. Leadership can be lonely if you’re doing what is expected of you as a leader.

Take some time to really think about your values. They may not be the same as your brothers’, and that’s ok. But hold true to those if you really want to be a better leader. They will be your compass as you continue to grow.



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