Thursday, December 16, 2010


So, there I was sitting in my hotel room the night before the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee meeting began watching “Avitar” with my husband. Due to a busy schedule and failure to flock to the theater with the masses, this was my first viewing. We even missed the beginning of this showing, but quickly found ourselves immersed in the fantasy.

Being a contributor to and administrator of the Leadership in Cinema program, my brain is trained to watch for leadership moments in film. However, this time I didn’t engage as I had done previously with other films—at least not immediately. I enjoyed the movie and wondered why I hadn’t made time to watch it earlier. I turned off the television and entered a peaceful night's slumber.

A few days later, Alexis Lewis, a doctoral student from Oregon State University, presented research findings to the subcommittee that resonated deeply with my philosophy of fire and the coursework I was pursing at Boise State University—human performance and social interaction. Alexis’ presentation called “Upward Voice” spoke to research conducted with wildland firefighters and their ability to use their upward voice. Within her presentation, Alexis identified two foundational leadership characteristics: quality experience and compassionate/caring.

Upon returning to work, I fell back into my weekly routine of researching blog topics and found a link off the Harvard Business Review blog to an article by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence,” a book in our Professional Reading Program, and Richard Boyatzis titled “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership.” Goleman and Boyatzis contend that “new studies of the brain show that leaders can improve group performance by understanding the biology of empathy.” Within the HBR blog was an interview with Goleman on the subject.

Returning to my Avitar viewing experience, I find the social intelligence concept a reflection of the way the Avitar characters wove themselves together to become one entity and the bond that they shared.

We address compassion and empathy throughout the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program. May your actions speak louder than words written in our values and principles. I challenge each of you to watch Goleman’s 10-minute video about social intelligence and its impact on leadership development.

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