Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Who Says You Need a Title to be a Leader?

As a group of us contemplated the revision of the self-development section of the leadership Toolbox, we noticed that we had excluded the follower/aspiring leader in the online matrix. Revisions, expected to be complete early this summer ,will provide self-development direction for that category of leader.

Each one of us is a leader, whether a leader of one, new leader, leader of people, leader of leaders, or leader of organizations. Leaders of one don't necessarily have a title, yet they are our most important asset. A few years ago, I came across what has become one of my favorite leadership reads titled You Don't Need a Title to be a Leader by Mark Sanborn. Here's what the inside jacket of his book says:

"Through the stories of a a number of unsung heroes, Sanborn reveals the keys each one of us can use to improve our organizations and enhance our careers.

Genuine leadership--leadership with a 'little l,' as he puts it--is not conferred by a title or limited to the executive suite. Rather, it is shown through our everyday actions and the way we influence the lives of those around us. Among the qualities that genuine leaders share:
  • Acting with purpose rather than getting bogged down by mindless activity.
  • Caring about and listening to others.
  • Looking for ways to encourage the contributions and development of others rather than focusing solely on personal achievements.
  • Creating a legacy of accomplishment and contribution in everything they do."

If you are like many wildland firefighters, you may not consider yourself a leader. However, you are a leader of one and owe it to yourself to become the best leader that you can be. You Don't Need a Title to be a Leader is a part of our Professional Reading Program. I challenge you to pick up and read a copy for yourself. If you are a leader of people, consider giving a copy to your followers. The gift you give could be the legacy that you leave.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interesting post!

Leadership is a very interesting idea in the fire community. It is vitally important to have a clear command structure, yet on the other hand, the safety of everyone on the fireground depends on everyone being constantly aware and alert to emerging threats around them.

I ordered Sanborn's book and am looking forward to reading it.

Rachel C. Smith
Ph.D. Candidate, Fire Ecology
University of California, Berkeley

Pam McDonald said...

Sanborn reiterates leadership expert John Maxwell’s description of leadership as “positive influence.” We all have the power to influence those around us. A clearly defined command structure is vital to the success of our organization. Yet, as you state “the safety of everyone on the fireground depends on everyone being constantly aware and alert to emerging threats around them.” All wildland firefighters have the ability to make a positive influence in our organization. The mere presence of a title does not ensure a person is a leader.

The WFLDP promotes the philosophy that leaders can be made. The concept that you don’t have to have a title to lead is encouraging to those who aspire to lead and make a positive difference.

John Wood said...

I will disagree and say that the follower/aspiring leader role was not excluded in the online matrix. The position being discussed is filled by a person transitioning from the follower role to a leadership role and would fall, in the new leader category. Perhaps the omission of the matrix is in the introductory paragraph not describing the importance of being a good follower and how it enables the transition to a leadership role. With the experience of a competent follower, knowledge of the work environment and knowledge of what success would look like a follower has all of the tools needed to become a leader. What is lacking and draws the distinction between follower and new leader is the decision to act. Followers, although an important role, are not leaders and would not be included in the Leadership Level matrix. Further, the matrix identifies actions taken by an individual that may be driven by a position title but can be achieved without a title and tie back to the blog topic. The matrix is complete, the introduction just needs a mention of the follower role and the part it plays in developing leaders.

Pam McDonald said...

John, I understand your position and concur with the difference between a follower and a leader being the decision to act.

The self-development tool revision team talked about this distinction but wanted to align the self-development tasks with the levels of leadership presented on pages 22 -24 of “Leading in the Wildland Fire Service.” Those levels are followers, leaders of people, leaders of leaders, and leaders of organizations. The matrix will soon reflect self-development tasks for all levels. We opted to leave in the new leader tasks even though that level is not listed in our publication. We felt the distinction was warranted.

The reasoning behind my blog post was that all too often people equate being a leader to having a title. Leaders of people, leaders of leaders, and leaders of organizations imply a position of authority and a title. We are all leaders and need to spring to action when needed, especially when a safety issue or ethics violation occurs. Each wildland firefighter should abide by the Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles—not just those who have taken a leadership class and have a position of authority.

I believe that focusing on being an effective follower is key to the growth of the leadership program and promoting cultural change.