More Thoughts on Leadership

The Professional Volunteer Fire Department: More Thoughts on Leadership

By Thomas A. Merrill

Leadership is a subject that gets a lot of attention. Books on leadership are flooding the market. Countless courses are offered and many prominent military, political, and fire service leaders are available to discuss this subject as well. The fact that there is so much leadership material available and that so many people are engaged in talking about it must mean that there is a tremendous demand for it. This demand is made evident based on the amount of e-mails and phone calls I receive discussing leadership issues and problems in the volunteer firehouse. As such, our volunteer fire service is craving good, solid leadership.

All firefighters can learn to be a good leader. Remember, leaders need not be department officers. That being said, ALL department officers should strive to be good leaders. Solid leadership is required from all areas of an organization, from the firematic officer side to the administrative officer side. It’s important that leaders exercise good judgment and strive to lead their department in a positive manner; otherwise, so much of what I call “wasted energy” is invested in leadership quandaries that van truly bog down an organization and prevent good work from getting done. It can also cause good people to leave.

Leading volunteers can certainly be challenging. As a matter of fact, it can be much harder leading volunteers than leading members in any paid organization. Volunteers obviously have other things competing for their personal time and the fire department is not putting food on their table or paying their bills. While volunteer officers can certainly order their members to do things, that style can grow old and tiresome after a while, especially if done in a nasty or disrespectful manner. Members may simply decide to stay home and not attend the department work detail, fund raising event, or worse yet not respond to the emergency call. The goal in good volunteer fire department leadership is to inspire your people and make them want to participate and be at the firehouse and on that emergency call, not force them.

All the great books and training classes regarding leadership list many similar traits that all great leaders possess; Not all these great leaders are from the fire service, either. Indeed, the traits of great leaders are learned from successful military leaders, business icons, and even respected politicians. If fire service leaders—especially the officer—work to apply these traits, success will follow.

However, leading is not that easy. Hard decisions are made and people won’t always agree with you, but if you listen to people, understand them, treat them well, and communicate effectively, you will find less conflict and more harmony within the halls of your volunteer firehouse.

Let’s discuss of those “must-have” traits that are employed not only by good leaders but successful fire department officers as well.

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