Monday, December 23, 2013


Photo by Brian Brush
By Mark vonAppen

I believe firefighters can be placed into 3 categories in terms of engagement and leadership.  Generally speaking: 

  • 25% believe in (or pretend to believe in) current leadership staff
  •  35% have no faith in (some of them even hate) the leadership staff
  •  40% could go either way given strong direction and leadership 

Of the 35% that contains the haters, there is a very temperamental subset that can have a profound impact on organizational chemistry. 

The most important firefighters to capture are the rogue leaders, those passionate individuals who, if ignored, can be savage and destructive forces on the team.  Like it or not, your truest leaders are not always the ones who do exactly as they are told or what the book says is right every single time. Your best leaders are not necessarily "yes men".  The best leaders are functionally intelligent, independent thinkers who scare the shit out of micro-managers.

People gravitate toward strong personalities, not drones who do just exactly what is expected of them and nothing more.  Some of the strongest leaders among us have pushed it right to the edge and some have even gotten kicked off of the team.  Passion is energy; channelling that energy in a way to best suit the needs of the team is the key to overall success.  Some of history's most influential leaders were agents of evil, I sure-as-hell don't want them on my team.  In order to bring the rogues home, you must first understand who they are.

Rogues are driven by passion.  Sometimes, your informal, real leaders wind up getting chapped by positional leaders who don't know what to do with them.  Rogues have a lot of energy and original ideas, because of this they are seen as trouble makers who rock the boat.  They ask questions. They can be found training by themselves or in tight-knit misunderstood groups.  They are often your highest fireground performers because their passion and drive for perfection won't let them stop training and learning.  They are students of the craft in the truest sense.  The rogue believes that when your job has the potential to take your life, you had best make it your life's work.  Rogues are intolerant of those who do not understand their drive or respect the craft.

Communication, trust, and confidentiality are the keys to success in any leadership endeavor, but particularly when dealing with the bristly rogue.  Cultivating trust in the firehouse is a must have if we seek an elite level of performance. 
"People follow passion much more readily than rules. Rogue leaders have loaded dispositions that can either aid in leading the group forward or act to tear the team apart.  Find your most passionate people and bring them on board."
Each rogue leader must be engaged individually in order to determine what motivates them.  Build trust by treating everyone as unique, and shower them with genuine interest.  Place these fiery leaders in positions where they have the best chance of affecting others with their strength, their passion for the craft.  They must feel that the organization will not quit on them, even when they overstep their bounds.  The deal breaker is if the rogue does harm to the team, this cannot be tolerated.  The obligation of the informal leader is to make every effort to try to contribute to the success of the team.  People must feel that the leader is speaking to them individually even as the leader is addressing an entire  group. Trust and connection must be built and it might take a while.

How do you develop trust?
  • Communication
  • Honesty - most rogues have something in their career that has made them jaded, be honest or you'll lose them forever
  • Create stakeholders - include informal leaders in the planning process
  • Clearly communicate the plan and then execute it 
  • Mutual exchange - have expectations of the individual and allow them to have expectations of positional leaders
  • Accountability  
  • Patience
Photo by author
For better or worse, rogue leaders have the greatest influence on the firehouse.  Their infectious, passionate personalities are magnetic.  People are pulled in when they speak and they will emulate their actions. If you are able to rein in their energy for the positive, and are genuinely interested in helping them succeed for the good of all; then you will have an ally for life.  If you double-cross or lie to them you will have an enemy for eternity.  Trust is the biggest factor in getting and keeping rogues engaged.   

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Rogue leaders have loaded dispositions that can either aid in leading the group forward or act to tear the team apart.  The key is taking all of that energy and focusing it in the right direction before it goes sideways from lack of exercise and frustration.  Rogues just need someone they can trust and who truly believes in them.  People follow passion much more readily than rules.  Find your most passionate people and bring them on board.  True progress is made when passion and lofty goals meet planning and expectations.


  1. Mark,
    You never cease to amaze me with how your content applies directly to subjects we deal with day to day. You have a very unique talent to put together words in such a powerful way but still allow it to speak to a bunch of blue collar fireman. Very impressed. We will see you in January.
    Ryan Royal

  2. Mark, couldn't agree more with RR. You always hit the nail directly on the center of the head! Your words motivate and inspire many people on the job! I love it! Keep kicking ass bro!

  3. You've managed to put into words what a lot are thinking, and I couldn't agree with you more! It's refreshing to read an article that gives credibility and praises knowledgeable, trained, and passionate firefighters.....

    Keep up the great work and have a Merry Christmas, bro!

  4. awesome! you have true vision.....

  5. What a exact description of a leader in the Fire Service, I know a few and they make great Captains.

  6. Mark,

    Fantastic article that I am passing along to others.

  7. Great Job Mark. Thank You for your passion of the job.

  8. Your words give me strength and validation. Thank you!

  9. Your a legend bro!!! Keep killing it! Every time I see you have a new article out I stop what im doing and make sure I grasp the knowledge. Rogues aka the 1% ers. Its a mind set.

  10. victor sampietroJuly 23, 2014 at 6:35 PM

    The real problem with rogues is they want their ideas followed 100%...anything short of that will not be accepted and their passion will turndestructive. As a boss..following or accepting their idea has a major drawback...if the shit hits the fan..the rogue will slowly sink to the back of the room,..poi.ting a finget was "his" decision

  11. Victor, You apparently do not know any true "Rogue" leaders. Because an individual that has been labeled a rogue (in this sense) takes full responsibility for his/her mistakes and willingly will push those around them forward to experience and receive praise for the success that they tirelessly pursue. It is not about risk for a Rogue, they understand that risk can never be completely eliminated, just understood and reduced. If we are afraid to accept risk then we will never accomplish anything great! For the record, my mistakes have provided the greatest force multipliers in my career. My only disgust lies in those who have never learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

  12. Best possible reply^^^