Friday, May 10, 2013

Leadership as a Punchline

By: Mark vonAppen

In this time of transition in the American Fire Service due to mass retirements and paradigm shift in how we do business; the unfortunate and sometimes dangerous side-effect is that there are individuals who are thrust into leadership roles out of necessity (somebody needs to get promoted, right?) that do not possess the tools necessary to lead effectively.  As a result, we have seen members of the service catapulted into high level positions that never learned the jobs five or six ranks below them.  It’s hard to make up for 15 – 20 years of rubber-stamping, pencil whipping, and showing up late for class.  Leadership becomes a punchline and we roll our eyes when the leader makes a decision.

Leading people is a privilege, not a right.  Some of us need to be reminded of that.

The role of the Chief is to be technically and tactically proficient, and to give the officers who report to them the tools to do their job well.  The role of the officer is the same; to support the efforts, and cultivate the talents of those beneath them. If they’re not doing that then they’re not doing 
their job, end of story.

Until we stop being the champions of mediocrity as a culture and work towards a true meritocracy we are doomed to hear hubristic and ignorant statements forever.  The safety and operational effectiveness of your people can never be trumped by a need to further someone's career or to appease a political agenda.  We have to take a stand on those issues that matter and be unflinching in our commitment to each other. Leadership cannot become a punchline.  When it does, those who are in the leadership role have lost the privilege of leading and will never be able to recover. 

Some of us have forgotten why the fire service exists.  We exist to answer the bell. Leading people is a privilege, not a right. Some of us need to be reminded of that. 

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