Friday, July 30, 2010

“Young gov leaders: Love them or lose them”

Our Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles are laden with statements related to taking care of our people:

  • Develop your subordinates for the future.

  • Consider individual skill levels and development needs when assigning tasks.

  • Know your subordinates and look out for their well being.

  • Take care of your subordinate’s needs.

  • Build the team.

  • Recognize individual and team accomplishments and reward them appropriately.

I recently read a blog posting on The Federal Coach by Tom Fox titled “Young gov leaders: Love them or lose them.” The information contained within the article paralleled information that I had heard while attending the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) last November. We need to address our ability to take care of and maintain our next generation firefighters and leaders.

Fox provides “five ideas for retaining your younger employees while grooming them to lead” including:

  1. Focus on the firsts—first day, first week, first month.

  2. Keep them inspired.

  3. Tap their brains.

  4. Show them the path to leadership.

  5. Pair them up.

Are you the type of leader investing in your young talent? Will your leadership legacy be such that you provided for your people and inspired them to carry the wildland fire program to new frontiers or will those under your direction opt to leave the fire service for "greener pastures"?

Mark Hanna wrote a piece for Wharton's Leadership Digest titled "Managing Talent in a Turbulent Economy: A Deloitte Study." In the "Spotlight on Leadership" section, he states, "First, and most importantly, there seems to be a large disconnect between those who 'talk the talk' about leadership development and those who actually 'walk the walk.'"

He goes on to say, "Many admit that they lack the proper tools to develop their leaders. Only half (52 percent) use objective, merit-based standards to identify potential leaders, and a slightly smaller percentage (47 percent) are using developmental career paths to move leaders into positions of more responsibility."

Do you lack the tools to perform your duty of developing your subordinates for the future? The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program has the tools and resources necessary for all levels of leadership.

Staff Rides - Seeing is Believing

In my last post, I brought up the term staff ride. Are you aware of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program's Staff Ride Library?

"The intent of this resource is to provide a library of information on significant wildland fire events in order to assist individuals who want to conduct staff rides to those sites...and to provide a reference source for individuals who want to develop new staff rides for incidents of local interest."

Staff rides are an integral part of being a "student of fire." Physically walking the very ground where an event occurred is a powerful learning experience. Individuals are able to get a sense of the what those who came before them may have experienced--better so than by just reading or hearing about the event.

Those who have given their time to create the WFLDP's Staff Ride Library are to be commended for their efforts. The library captures our history, allowing others to learn the lessons of those who have come before us.

Fireline Challenge: Leave a legacy. Develop and submit a local staff ride for inclusion in the Local Staff Ride Archive.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fire Talk

There has been a lot of talk recently on various social networking forums regarding the spelling of "hotshot"--one word or two, etc. According to NWCG's Glossary of Wildland Fire Terminology, like it or not, the spelling is "hotshot."

I remember the same arguments about "air tanker" versus "airtanker." Or even the contentious debate about "engine" replacing "tanker" and all the fallout that was associated with that change. Does engine refer to the truck or the engine in the truck? I know I still think "tanker" when I see a Type 4 engine.

Over the last few years, there has been a struggle in the leadership circles that I walk revolving around the term "virtual staff ride." The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program contends that "A staff ride is a case study that is conducted on the ground where the event happened." Therefore, adding the term "virtual" to staff rides contradicts the very nature of a staff ride. Next time you are tempted to use the term "virtual staff ride," opt for the more generic term "case study."

Being humans, we cling to the that we know and have been taught. Whatever our differences, I believe that we stand behind our debates as a means of creating a more professional firefighting force. Some find the debates trivial, but I find them a seed of leadership.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Leaders We Would Like to Meet

Throughout my years in leadership development, I have had the opportunity to hear many a notable leader speak. This past year I had the privilege of hearing former New York mayor, Rudolph (Rudy) Giuliani, speak to a crowd of about 10,000 people about leadership. Giuliani firmly believes that leaders are readers and writers. Our Professional Reading Program stresses a similar message, "Read to a student of fire."

Ironically, a former member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee had given me a copy of Giuliani's autobiography titled "Leadership" for the leadership library that has taken hold in my office. I hadn't found the time to read it, but pulled it out after my recent blog post featuring the former mayor. I found today's topic in a quote from Giuliani's preface to "Leadership."

"All leaders are influenced by those they admire. Reading about them and studying their development inevitably allows an aspiring leader to grow his own leadership traits. If he's lucky, he'll be able to learn from leaders in his own life--ask them questions, observe them in private, determine which of that leader's methods work well and would complement his own burgeoning style."

This quote speaks so true of our Leaders We Would Like to Meet feature in the Leadership Toolbox. This tool provides a collection of "interviews recognizing those that have spent their career providing exemplary leadership to firefighters and capturing their lessons for future leaders."

Fire leaders have a duty to develop their subordinates for the future. Think about those exemplary leaders who were a part of your success. Do they meet the guidelines for a Leaders We Would Like to Meet spotlight? If they do, take a moment to sit down with them and capture their lessons for future leaders.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Authority to Lead Versus the Decision to Lead

Those familiar with Leading in the Wildland Fire Service are well aware of the first tenet of our leadership framework: The authority to lead versus the decision to lead. Where the authority to lead is established by law, the ability cannot be legislated. (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 5)

Fire leaders choose to lead to “bring order to chaos, improve our people’s lives, and strengthen our organizations.” Listen to Captain "Sully" Sullenberger talk on The Washington Post's On Leadership website about the choice to lead.

Throughout history, there have been many leaders who faced difficult challenges and provided a sense of stability through effective leadership. Two such leaders include President Abraham Lincoln—a leader caught between both sides of civil unrest and Mayor Rudy Giuliani--a leader faced with leading during the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Videos presented on the Washington Post’s On Leadership site, showcase both Lincoln's and Giuliani's leadership during these turbulent times.

Fire leaders know what it is like to be caught between various sides of a conflict yet accept the choice to lead. These videos provide examples of tools these leaders used effectively during very chaotic times.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Get Your Smokey On"

After more than 65 years of vigilance, a new Smokey Bear campaign called "Get Your Smokey On" has hit airwaves and social networking sites. In a recent press release, the Advertising Council announced they had joined the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) "to launch a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) and an educational DVD for elementary school students designed to provide critical information to Americans about wildfire prevention."

If you are interested in the new campaign where you can download a variety of prevention resources, be sure to check out the following Team Smokey Bear sites:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Who's Got Your Back?

"Ready, set, go!" Whether you are a quarterback or a wildland fire leader, effectively leading your team can be the difference between a safe assignment or a career-ending event.

I recently completed a lesson plan about The Blind Side for the Leadership in Cinema (LinC) program. The Blind Side is based upon the real-life story of Michael Oher. One of Memphis' wealthiest families, the Tuohy family, comes to the aid of a member of one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation: Hurt Village. Michael was a child who seemed invisible to the outside world. The Touhy's gave Michael the opportunity to break free from a life that showed little chance of success to one where anything was possible--including the life of a professional athlete.

The movie gives wildland fire leaders a visual representation of our Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles in action--especially those of respect and integrity.

Respect: "To gain respect from our people, we first respect them. Leaders demonstrate respect for our people in many ways: by getting to know them, by looking out for their well-being, by keeping them informed, by putting forth the effort to build strong teams, and by employing them in accordance with their capabilities." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 45)

Integrity ~ Knowing Ourselves and Seeking Improvement: "The starting point for leadership development is self-awareness. In many ways, our greatest challenge is to know ourselves. Self-awareness is an inward application of situation awareness. Fire leaders have an inner drive to analyze and know ourselves. We probe our blind spots and come away resolved to improve ourselves. We honestly appraise our own strengths and weaknesses." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 59)

Just as the Tuohy's gave Micheal opportunities that he might not have had, wildland fire leaders owe the same respect to their followers. In return, followers owe their leaders the same respect to protect their leader's blind sides.

The lesson plan provides a wide variety of resources aimed at helping individuals expose their blind spots. Specific emphasis is also placed on the importance of leaders valuing their subordinates. A Southwest Airlines case study is included as premier example of leaders taking care of their people.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Maintaining Honesty and Integrity"

by Jim Rohn

For a leader, honesty and integrity are absolutely essential to survival. A lot of businesspeople don't realize how closely they're being watched by their subordinates. Remember when you were a kid in grammar school, how you used to sit there staring at your teacher all day? By the end of the school year, you could do a perfect imitation of all your teacher's mannerisms. You were aware of the slightest nuances in your teacher's voice—all the little clues that distinguished levels of meaning that told you the difference between bluff and "now I mean business."

And you were able to do that after eight or nine months of observation. Suppose you had five or 10 years. Do you think there would have been anything about your teacher you didn't know?

Now fast-forward and use that analogy as a manager. Do you think there's anything your people don't know about you right this minute? If you haven't been totally aboveboard and honest with them, do you really think you've gotten away with it? Not too likely. But if you've been led to believe that you've gotten away with it, there might be a good probability that people are afraid of you, and that's a problem in its own right.

But there is another side of this coin. In any organization, people want to believe in their leaders. If you give them reason to trust you, they're not going to go looking for reasons to think otherwise, and they'll be just as perceptive about your positive qualities as they are about the negative ones.

A situation that happened some years ago at a company in the Midwest illustrates this perfectly. The wife of a new employee experienced complications in the delivery of a baby. There was a medical bill of more than $10,000, and the health insurance company didn't want to cover it. The employee hadn't been on the payroll long enough, the pregnancy was a preexisting condition, etc., etc.

In any case, the employee was desperate. He approached the company CEO and asked him to talk to the insurance people. The CEO agreed, and the next thing the employee knew, the bill was gone and the charges were rescinded.

When he told some colleagues about the way the CEO had so readily used his influence with the insurance company, they just shook their heads and smiled. The CEO had paid the bill out of his own pocket, and everybody knew it, no matter how quietly it had been done.

Now an act of dishonesty can't be hidden either, and it will instantly undermine the authority of a leader. But an act of integrity and kindness like the example above is just as obvious to all concerned. When you're in a leadership position, you have the choice of how you will be seen, but you will be seen one way or the other, make no mistake about it.

One of the most challenging areas of leadership is your family. Leadership of a family demands even higher standards of honesty and integrity, and the stakes are higher too. You can replace disgruntled employees and start over. You can even get a new job for yourself, if it comes to that. But your family can't be shuffled like a deck of cards. If you haven't noticed, kids are great moral philosophers, especially as they get into adolescence. They're determined to discover and expose any kind of hypocrisy, phoniness, or lack of integrity on the part of authority figures, and if we're parents, that means us. It's frightening how unforgiving kids can be about this, but it really isn't a conscious decision on their part; it's just a necessary phase of growing up.

They're testing everything, especially their parents.

As a person of integrity yourself, you'll find it easy to teach integrity to your kids, and they in turn will find it easy to accept you as a teacher. This is a great opportunity and also a supreme responsibility, because kids simply must be taught to tell the truth: to mean what they say and to say what they mean.

Praise is one of the world's most effective teaching and leadership tools. Criticism and blame, even if deserved, are counterproductive unless all other approaches have failed.

Now for the other side of the equation, we all know people who have gotten ahead as a result of dishonest or unethical behavior. When you're a kid, you might naively think that never happens, but when you get older, you realize that it does. Then you think you've really wised up. But that's not the real end of it. When you get older, you see the long-term consequences of dishonest gain, and you realize that in the end it doesn't pay.

"Hope of dishonest gain is the beginning of loss." I don't think that old saying refers to loss of money. I think it actually means loss of self-respect. You can have all the material things in the world, but if you've lost respect for yourself, what do you really have? The only way to ever attain success and enjoy it is to achieve it honestly with pride in what you've done.

This isn't just a sermon, it's very practical advice. Not only can you take it to heart, you can take it to the bank.

Article by Jim Rohn, America's Foremost Business Philosopher, reprinted with permission from Jim Rohn International C2010. As a world-renowned author and success expert, Jim Rohn touched millions of lives during his 46-year career as a motivational speaker and messenger of positive life change. For more information on Jim and his popular personal achievement resources or to subscribe to the weekly Jim Rohn Newsletter, visit

Monday, July 12, 2010

Leading in Recovering (and Even Rebounding) Economy

Wharton Leadership Conference 2010
University of Pennsylvania

On June 15, a few senior wildland fire leaders were fortunate to attend the 14th annual Wharton Leadership Conference as part of the leadership curriculum, L-580, Leaders of Organizations. Participants of this conference were tasked with thinking about the philosophy of leadership and how we must continue to develop our Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program within the organization.

Not knowing what to expect but having received my leader’s intent, I sat patiently and listened to some of the most amazing people speak about organizational leadership, emotional intelligence, global change, managing talent, and the art of possibility. These speakers included the CEO of UPS, the co-chairman of the Silicon Valley Deliotte, the president and CEO of the Women’s World Bank, the CEO of BNY Mellon Financial Corporation, a columnist for The Washington Post, the vice president of General Electric and the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. If anyone is interested in learning more about these fascinating leaders, one can reference the leadership conference on Wharton’s website.

I walked away with my brain filled with thoughts of organizational leadership, change management, global initiatives, research and development and wondering about how we could embed these ideas into our leadership curriculum, training and staff rides. I know we are working diligently to keep up with understanding how we will continue to evolve our leadership within the many challenges of the organization. However, several emerging trends will continue to be explored by many organizations, and the Forest Service FAM and other wildland fire agencies should continue to participant in such leadership workshops as we can learn from other organizations and thus continue to evolve and advance with our leadership curriculum.

Shawna Legarza
Fire Management Officer
US Forest Service, San Juan NF – Columbine District

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bringing the Battle of Gettysburg to You (Part 2 - Lt. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg)

If you found my recent post regarding Ed Ruggero's video about General John Buford at Gettysburg, you'll enjoy this one as well.

Part 2 of my blog involves The Washington Post's "On Leadership at Gettysburg" video series. This video titled "Fix Bayonets!" addresses the creative leadership of Lt. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top.

A transcript is also available on the site where past L-580 Gettysburg participants can participate in an online discussion regarding Chamberlain's leadership. Ruggero poses the following questions around leadership:
  • Have you ever found yourself in the situation that Joshua Chamberlain did, in some high stakes high pressure environment where you had no idea what the right answer was and you had to invent one on the spot and it better be a good one?

  • Can we teach ourselves to be creative?

  • How can we foster that kind of creativity, not only in ourselves but the folks who work for us as well?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

From Hurricane Katrina to BP

In light of the ongoing BP oil disaster and experiences the wildland fire community has had with national disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, this January 2010 video with FEMA's Craig Fugate which is located on The Washington Post's "On Leadership" website should generate some interesting discussion in our leadership circles.

Here are a few quotes and topics that may "spark" your interest.
  • "I think that you go big."

  • "Respond like it's bad; gear down."

  • Use of thunderbolt drills: "You've got to allow them to fail. If we're not exercising to the point of failure, how do we know when it breaks?"

  • Government-centric response to disasters

Check out the video for yourself at

After you have watched the video, consider yourself as a wildland fire leader in the interviewee seat. How would you respond to Steve Pearlstein's questions? They are adapted below:

  • What did the wildland fire service learn from Hurricane Katrina?

  • What do you think about the effectiveness of emergency preparedness drills?

  • How do you feel about pushing your team to the point of failure?

  • What lessons learned from our involvement in all-risk incidents can be translated to a business/non-emergency oriented organization in terms of something really bad going on?

  • What are your feelings about what Fugate calls a government-centric response to disasters?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"1910 Fire: A Century Later - Could It Happen Again?"

On May 20-22, 2010, the Inland Empire Society of American Foresters (SAF) conducted their annual meeting in Wallace, Idaho. If you've studied fire history, you know that 1910 was a catastrophic fire year. The Big Burn complex consumed approximately 3,000,000 across three northwest states. Ed Pulaski was among the survivors of that seige.

A century later, Jerry Williams, U.S. Forest Service, Retired, poses the question of whether this event could happen again. View his paper at

The 2010 Annual Fireline Safety Refresher - Century of Fire presented a module called "The Fires of 1910." To obtain the DVD and supporting materials visit the WFSTAR website at

Check out these sites related to the 1910 fire: