Monday, November 2, 2009

Leadership is Action - "The Un-Comfort Zone" with Robert Wilson

The following article was recommended by for reading and discussion by
Jeff Surber
Humboldt-Toiyabe NF

THE UN-COMFORT ZONE with Robert Wilson
Leadership vs. Power
King George III asked Benjamin West, his American painter, what George Washington would do if he prevailed in the Revolutionary War. West replied, “He will return to his farm.” The British monarch incredulously said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” On December 23, 1783 Washington did just that and retired to Mount Vernon – despite the encouragement of many to stay in power. Despite the willingness of Americans to crown him king. Thirteen years later, he would do it once again.

In 1787, Washington was coaxed back to Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention. While there he provided the leadership necessary to get the fractious delegates to settle down and complete the work of designing a new constitution. Afterwards, in 1789, he was elected the first President of the United States. He reluctantly ran for a second term in 1792. He refused to run for a third term setting a precedent that lasted 150 years, and retired once again to his farm.

Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to test a man’s character – give him power.” George Washington passed that test. Twice in his life he walked away from power and proved that he was indeed the greatest man in the world. He demonstrated that leadership is something that you give – not take – and that power should be used responsibly.

Washington died in 1799, the year that Napoleon Bonaparte became the ruler of France. In contrast to Washington, Napoleon could not acquire enough power. His legendary lust for command drove him to take over much of Europe. “Power is my mistress,” he once claimed, “I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.”

Years later, having lost all power and living in exile, he lamented "They wanted me to be another Washington."

History is rife with stories of people who abused their power. Abuse of power, however, is not just reserved for politicians and tyrants. It can be abused by managers, spouses, parents, peers and the list goes on. It is the lure of dominance over others, when it motivates people toward leadership roles, that is revealing. It reveals uncertainty, lack of confidence and fear. It is said that power corrupts, but more often than not, it is a corrupted individual who is attracted to power. It is a feeling of inferiority, sometimes called a Napoleon Complex, that drives someone to control other people and to micro-manage their surroundings. Today we call such a person a Control Freak. Science fiction author, Robert Heinlein noted, “Anyone who wants to be a politician shouldn’t be allowed to be one.”

When we look at Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of Human Motivation (Survival, Safety, Social, Esteem, Fulfillment), we see that someone who hungers for power is stuck in the second to bottom level which is Safety. A true leader has self-esteem and self confidence and does not seek power to bolster his or her feeling of self worth. Thomas Jefferson observed that, “An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.”

A true leader is motivated by a goal. A goal common to his group whether that group is a company or a country. If you find yourself attracted to leadership, stop and check your motivation. Are you driven to share your gift of understanding in the endeavor of achieving a goal, or are you motivated by perquisites of position and the power you have over others? As John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is a motivational speaker and humorist. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. For more information on Robert's programs please visit

----------- Publishing Information ----------
This article is offered free of charge on a nonexclusive basis. The copyright is retained by Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. You may reprint or post this material, as long as my name (Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.) and contact information ( are included. If you publish it, please send a copy to Jumpstart Your Meeting! PO Box 190146, Atlanta, GA 31119. If you post it, please send the URL to

Leadership is Action - "You Can't Force Leadership"

It is of this writer’s belief that one can’t force leadership. We can just plant the seed. Your flower will blossom when it is ready. Flowers bloom all the time.

Living and working in Washington, D.C., for a few months made me think more about our country and our history. I have stared at the White House; I have visited the memorials, I have walked the bridges and can hardly fathom receiving a letter from the President or crossing over the Potomac by foot or by riding a horse. The Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg resonates with me more now than ever, the history of this great city, the architecture on the buildings, the lay-out of the streets, the many circles; originally planned out to confuse the enemy, now confusing mostly tourists, including myself. I study the map of the city wanting to figure out the madness behind the design. Walking around makes me think about how lucky I am to have the basic necessities of life: good health, clothes, food and shelter. Many battles have been lost for us to live in this great country. A Blackhawk helicopter flies overhead as I walk on the Washington Memorial Bridge. I stop to watch the helicopter. Freedom, it is here from the loss of others. I look at the Potomac, the water flows swiftly, I think about the troops who had to cross over the Potomac River to protect Washington, D. C., from the Army of Northern Virginia. With their sacrifice and many others, I stand here today, free.

On driving to Emmitsburg for the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial, one couldn’t help but to think about our fallen firefighters, and then again Gettysburg and the battles of our past. This area is rich in our history. Looking out the window one thought about the placement of the troops only days before the engagement (June 24th - 28th 1863), Stuart clashed with Hancock just West of Centreville and then captured 125 supply wagons just North of Rockville. Troops were hungry and weary but continued to make movement in and around these valleys and hills now used for highways, shopping malls, Starbucks, fast food places, “Metro stops”, etc., all filled with people hurrying to the next location, engulfed in rushing from point A to point B. This makes me think about movement; movement how it has changed over time. Staring out the window, comfortable and grateful, I think about life’s lessons and leadership; life changes all the time, but has leadership changed over time?

Staring at the White House brings a chill to my body. I wonder how George Meade felt when he received a letter from the President Lincoln commanding him as the Commander for the Army of the Potomac. I think about leaders of the past, leaders of the present. I think about the friction between the government, from the past and still today. Will the leaders of this great country ever unite? Is the leadership skills being present today the same as they were in the past? Is leadership being able to deal with the changes and challenges of life? I think so. I reflect on those who have given me the chance to work on this assignment, to learn, to lead and to follow. I am honored to have had this opportunity. I am honored to work for the federal government.

While this writer doesn’t believe the fundamental traits of leadership have changed, one believes that we can all develop our leadership traits to the best level of our desire. Developing leadership traits is building the vision, seeing the path, knowing when to execute, knowing when to follow and knowing how to communicate effectively. On July 3rd, Longstreet tells his commander General Lee that he doesn’t think the plan will work; Longstreet is displaying great leadership in voicing his opinion about high levels of concern. This is a good example for our fire organization to follow. Speak up in a polite manner to voice your concerns. Too often we are hesitant to voice our concerns. Worried about the outcome, we shy away from speaking up. Enable your leadership skills and speak up when necessary. Even after the Battle of Gettysburg was over, Buford, one of the great leaders of this time, voices his opinion about being worn out and disgusted from the war, wishing to be relieved from the Army of the Potomac. Sometimes, this is all we can do, express our concerns and hope the leader will listen. Upward voicing is a powerful tool and we all need to remember, to listen to those we lead and, voice our concerns to those who lead us. The flower will either bloom or not.

Shawna Legarza
Fire Management Officer - DIVS 08
San Juan Public Lands

Leadership is Action - Gettysburg Staff Ride (Lee)

General Robert E. Lee said, "To be a good soldier you must love the army. To be a good commander you must be able to order the death of the thing you love".

Although firefighting and the military have similar takes on leadership, in many cases there is a huge difference!!!!

Rowdy Muir
Zone Fire Management Officer
Flaming Gorge
Ashley National Forest

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

2009 Gettysburg Staff Ride - Stand 4
(Discussion facilitated by Bill Molumby)

Hancock & Howard – Practical vs. Positional Leadership

If you have read Leading Up by Michael Useem you will be familiar with the dynamics of rank in organizations. Hancock had been appointed by Meade to assume command of the federal troops at Gettysburg. The problem for Hancock was that Howard, then in command, was in positional leadership (28 days Hancock’s superior in rank). Hancock had the practical position. Hancock found himself in a difficult position, one of moving a superior from adversary to ally. Without positional leadership, leading up requires vision, skill as well as respect.

Hancock displayed practical leadership in three ways:

• Vision – He studied the issues and developed a plan of action before arrival.
• Skill - He gained Howard’s agreement by presenting his plan in a way that included Howard in the decision and provided for his dignity.
• Respect – While he had the official order to take the command, he also understood the importance of honor and respect in implementing it.

Ego & pride are under currents in this dynamic between Howard and Hancock. If there is another lesson it is this: We can never afford to let our selves get caught up in the “I” if we care about the “We.”

"I think this is the strongest position upon which to fight a battle, and with your agreement, I select this as the battle-field."
Hancock to Howard, July 1st, 1863
2009 Gettysburg Staff Ride - Stand 3
(Discussion facilitated by Bill Molumby)

Lt. General Richard Ewell – Leaders Intent, Opportunity, and the Human Factor

Remember the success Ewell had on the afternoon of July 1st. Although he had not received written orders or instructions, he combined both leaders intent (Lee’s) and situational awareness (as reported to him by Rodes) to take positive action. His movement and engagement of resources at the right time and place were critical to that afternoon’s success. Ultimately though, his decision later that afternoon remains a significant discussion point 150 years later.

The Confederate’s had the Union Army on the retreat. Lee’s vision was taking shape before his eyes. If Ewell would continue pressing forward and take the high ground, Lee’s intent would become reality. The opportunity was there. The time was right; but human factors such as fatigue, friction, and communication played a heavy hand.

We see this same scenario played out on wildland fires. Whether it’s IC to PSC, OSC to OPBD, or LSC to FACL, is the intended end state being communicated correctly and in the end carried out with the same level of commitment and urgency?

Three points come to mind relative to this discussion:

• Is my intent clear or ambiguous?
• Do I see opportunities for success or situations control me?
• Is there friction, fatigue, or other human factors affecting decisions?

"to carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if you find it practicable…”
General Lee to Ewell
2009 Gettysburg Staff Ride - Stand 2
(Discussion facilitated by Bill Molumby)

General Buford

If you remember, Buford skirted the southern army for a number of days, collecting intelligence as well as thinking about the Southern Army’s intentions. Once it became clear in his mind what was to transpire and the potential consequences if not checked, he engaged in what might be termed a unique and history changing plan of action. The points for me to remember are:

• Situational awareness – he collected information and understood its meaning.
• Vision – with that information he determined how events would unfold.
• Bias for Action – he engaged in high risk/key action engagement.
• Communication – he successfully communicated his vision to his superior.

"They will attack you in the morning and they will come booming–skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil until supports arrive."
General John Buford at Gettysburg – June 30, 1863
2009 Gettysburg Staff Ride - Stand 1
(Discussion facilitated by Bill Molumby)

General Meade

Remember General Meade and the orders he received from General Halleck placing him in command of the Army of the Potomac at 3:00 a.m.? To me it was very typical of an early morning call an Incident Commander receives informing them of their team's activation to an incident. I’ve had many of those calls as I am sure you have also. Those initial orders were filled with many pending challenges, least of which involved the interaction with management, the public and your leadership team. While the situational awareness may not be at the level we would like initially, we are well aware that we will be working with and for others who are stressed out, need our help, and are looking for immediate functional leadership. That is what we do and why we are called.

Halleck’s letter on June 27th to Meade reads much like a delegation of authority. In fact, I wish most of my delegations were as clear, succinct, and filled with leader’s intent as Halleck’s. Alas, while our delegation may not be as we would like, we must translate those orders to our subordinates with our vision and then give them the latitude to be successful.

“Here we are, now what is the best thing to do?” – General Meade, July 2nd

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Inspirational Video Clip Site - Leadership in Cinema

Students of fire who utilize the Leadership in Cinema program may enjoy a few online motivational video clips by Simple Truths. The clips can be found at

Clips that relate well to the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP) include:
  • A Tender Warrior (complements We Were Soldiers)
  • Great Quotes from Great Leaders
  • The Essense of Leadership
  • The Power of Teamwork
  • Walk the Talk (Values and Principles)
  • What it Takes to be Number One (Values and Principles)

Let us know! Do you know of other online video sites that might be helpful to the WFLDP?

Blogging Comes to the Wildland Fire Leadership Program

Members of the NWCG Leadership Committee created this blog in an attempt to provide wildland fire leaders with the ability to discuss leadership topics.

Comments will be moderated to uphold the values and principles set forth in in the leadership program.

Welcome and happy blogging.