Believe it or not, the topic of leadership can be a frustrating topic to write about. Everywhere you look, you see a new article or spin-off on leadership. Being in a leadership position most of my life, I need to ring the bell and ask for a tactical pause on leadership. I pose a simple question: “Have we overcomplicated leadership?”
An excellent question posed to me as I sat through a three-week-long leadership course. Without a doubt, leadership is widely discussed, analyzed, marketed, and, forgive me for saying it but a weaponized topic. Over the last 20 years in the fire service, as well as my years playing sports, I have witnessed leadership transition into an animal that can be overwhelming, exhausting, and confusing. For a newly promoted Fire Officer, trying to grasp leadership principles can create a fog of war that can stall our personal growth and relationships.
If you don’t believe me, open a Google search engine and type “What is the definition of leadership?” Again, this is where I ask, why have we overcomplicated such a simple term? Leadership is as simple as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.” (Oxford Languages) Personally, leadership has always been viewed through your work ethic, passion, mental toughness, and execution. The bottom line is, can you be TRUSTED TO GET THE JOB DONE? When you can successfully execute within your “environment” and become a “results-driven” employee, people within your organization will view you as a leader, like it or not.
Throughout my career, I have concluded that the main reason why we need leaders is to get organizations through CHANGE. Thinking about it, most firefighters all have the same foundational institutional knowledge to get the job done. Change is the one tangible topic that is uncertain and inevitable. Those individuals that can recognize change and formulate new visions, goals, and strategies are the difference-makers within the organization.
A lot can be said about the environment in which we lead. We can all agree that leadership traits and principles stay the same, but the “game speed” we apply them can differ. For today’s leaders, I encourage you to challenge everything, do your self-study, and reflect on what leadership means within your environment. Have the courage to embrace change. Funnel the anxiety and be able to process new outcomes for your team to keep moving in the right direction. Do not just focus on one leadership philosophy or person to shape you.
Look beyond the framework of leadership and shift to the “function of leadership.” The more you focus on the execution, the better your game speed will improve. What level of execution do you find yourself operating within most? Strategic, Tactical, Task, or all of them. If you spend more time “in the weeds” focused on basic execution when in reality, you need to be operating at the strategic level, your game speed will be slow, and you will start to lose TRUST in your team.
I will pose five basic leadership competencies and the critical subtopics that support each competency. These five topics are highly discussed and practiced within my working environment. They focus on developing executive-level leadership skills, but I believe they can be applied at any level. These are examples of the “function” that we must operate within.
1. Leading Change
Creativity, External Awareness, Flexibility, Resilience, Strategic Thinking, & Vision.
2. Leading People
Conflict Management, Leveraging Diversity, Developing Others, & Team Building.
3. Being Results Driven
Accountability, Customer Service, Decisiveness, Entrepreneurship, Problem Solving, & Technical credibility.
4. Business Acumen
Financial Management, Human Capital Management, & Technology Management.
5. Building Coalitions
Partnering, Political Savvy, & Influencing/Negotiating.
So, I ask how these would apply within your environment and current posture within your organization. Do you have these skills? Do your current organizational leaders possess them? How difficult would it be to shift your mindset to these?
We have all been in your shoes, questioning am I doing the right thing. Never forget leadership is the “ACTION.” When you want to turn to a podcast, social media, or a classroom lecture for leadership nuggets, embrace everything they are talking about because their topic does have value. Improvement comes through understanding how to put their message into function and making your organization and people better. Hopefully, this has removed some of the fog, and you can start functioning toward an improved “you.” Remember, never give up, be yourself & never avoid doing what is right.
Wes Hill, Deputy Fire Chief