Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pulling the Team Together

"Fire leaders build cohesive teams--not simply groups to individuals putting forth individual efforts--to accomplish missions in high-risk environments." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 52)

As we begin to see fire activity increase and seasonal wildland firefighters return to work, it is time to talk team. The time and effort a leader devotes up front in creating a well-functioning and cohesive team will pay off with great rewards in the end. In Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, we highlight the following topics regarding "Building the Team." (Refer to pages 52 through 55.)

  • Trust
  • Healthy Conflict
  • Commitment
  • Peer Accountability
  • Team Results
  • Resilience

If you are not familiar with Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, take the time now to become a student of fire and read the publication. This publication provides the framework for the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program.

Additional references:

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Against Desperate Peril: High Performance in Emergency Preparation and Response"

Those leaders who have attended the L-580 Gettysburg staff ride are well aware of "Against Desparate Peril: High Performance in Emergency Preparation and Response" by Herman B. "Dutch" Leonard and Arnold M. Howitt. What began as a routine earthquake off the shore of Japan quickly turned into a crisis emergency that continues to challenge leaders weeks later.

In light of the recent crisis situation in Japan, all wildland fire leaders are encouraged to read the authors' paper. After you have read the paper, use the blog as a forum to discuss the paper with other wildland fire leaders.

Discussion Topics:
  • Discuss an event that looked routine that turned into a crisis situation.
  • How did your involvement in the crisis situation change your leadership?
Additional References:
"High Performance in Emergency Preparedness and Response: Disaster Type Differences" --a policy brief adapted by the original paper

Harvard Kennedy School, Taubman Center for State and Local Government, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Examples of Leadership from "Jarhead"

A big thank you to Tim Bartlett, Engine Captain 7132, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, for taking our recent leadership challenge by submitting the following clip suggestions to the Leadership in Cinema program.

Jarhead (2005)

"The movie Jarhead has a few good instances were the main character stepped up and lead his folks through some very trying times."
  • Clip suggestion #1: Scene involving troops getting shot at by A-10s. The leader quickly recognizes, assesses, and reorganizes as well a calms the troops and returns them to the task at hand.
  • Clip suggestion #2: The oilfield scene. "...the Marines encounter burning oil wells, lit by the retreating Iraqis, and they attempt to dig sleeping holes as a rain of crude oil falls from the sky. Before they can finish them, Sykes orders the squad to move to where the wind prevents the oil from raining on them. While digging new sleeping holes, Swoff discovers Fowler has defiled an Iraqi corpse which drives Swoff to the point of wanting to fight him. Troy breaks up the fight and orders Fowler to bury the body somewhere else." (Wikipedia)
Do you know of the clips Tim has suggested? Let's discuss them here.

If you have other clip or movie suggestions, let us know.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Relaxing the Grip

The global events of the last few weeks have allowed me plenty of opportunity to view leadership at its finest and its worst. When we assume a leadership position, we open ourselves up to being scrutinized by others.

As I watch leader after leader fall from power in the Middle East, I reflect upon various wildland fire leaders I've had the pleasure of working with for nearly three decades. I recall a wildland fire leader who I affectionately called Commander. Commander was one of the most knowledgeable wildland firefighters I knew. He respected and trusted my dispatching abilities; however, I'm not sure that his crew felt the same.

During fire suppression operations, the Commander was at his best and provided clear intent and truly looked out for the well-being of his crew. I have no doubt that his crew respected his insight and trusted his leadership while on the fireline. However, his grip was so strong during non-fire operations, that his crews despised his authoritarian style and were known to hide from him.

Commander and I talked about his leadership style, but little change was shown. Power may have corrupted Commander, but I believe he lacked formal training to be an effective leader. I often wonder what kind of leader he could have been had he been a student of fire in the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program.

Command and control is the backbone to the fire organization; yet, the mere terminology sets a very rigid structure. As the new generation firefighter enters the workforce, we need to consider how we can accommodate a new way of thinking. My recent blog series on motivation was meant to get wildland fire leaders thinking about what motivates their people and how we can all come together to meet the goals of the wildland fire service agencies that we represent. More importantly, how do we work across jurisdicational lines effectively and efficiently. Failed leadership is something that we all want to avoid.

Questions to ponder:

Additional reading:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Leadership in Cinema - Ruth Gruber

I found a Leadership in Cinema nugget on fellow blogger Billy Schmidt's site. Showtime is currently airing Ahead of Time, a documentary about Ruth Gruber, the youngest person in the world to receive a PhD. The film documents Ruth's adventures as an international foreign correspondent and photojournalist.

Take a moment and view the extended Ahead of Time trailer found on the Reel Inheritance Films and Vitagraph website. Information about ordering the DVD is also available on this website.

Members of our Professional Reading Program may wish to read Gruber's book "Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foeign Coorespondent."

Leadership Challenges:

  • Adopt this documentary and develop a lesson plan for the Leadership in Cinema library.
  • Particpate in a virtual discussion about this movie on this blog.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Motivation – Purpose & You

(This is the final installment of a three-part series on motivation.)

A co-worker that I had the pleasure of working with a few years ago asked his children the following question on a daily basis: What have you done today to make the world a better place? I ask myself the same question and reflect upon my years of experience as to what I’ve done to make this world a better place.

Daniel Pink, author of Drive—The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, believes that “It’s our nature to seek purpose.” A cause larger than self for what we do is purpose. Pink says, “The most deeply motivated people—not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied—hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.”

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to help train a battalion of soldiers at Ft. Hood for a wildland firefighting assignment. As I talked with the soldiers, I was amazed to hear fear in their voices. These were individuals, many of who had returned from Operation Desert Storm, had a perception of wildland fire portrayed by major media outlets. Men and women who were willing to lay down their lives for their country found difficulty in facing fire. The purpose to defend their country from a human threat was not easily transferable to a naturally occurring threat.

As wildland fire leaders, we should respect our subordinates by getting to know each one and looking out for his/her well being. Do you know the purposes behind what motivates your subordinates? Do you know the purpose behind what drives your agency or organization?

In conclusion to this series, here are a few motivational resources:

RSA Animate – Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us – this YouTube video is an excellent capstone for bringing the series together. (My apologies for those readers restricted from viewing YouTube videos.)

Mind Tools™ Newsletter 181 – dedicated to boosting motivation skills. Included in the open forum are a few articles of merit to wildland fire leaders:

Look at your leadership as a wildland firefighter. How has your leadership made the world a better place?

Serving with Purpose – A Wildland Fire Example

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with North Zone Fire Management through the Leadership in Cinema program. Beyond their contribution to that program, NZ Fire is committed to doing a great service for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. In response to the Foundation’s assistance to one of their own, NZ “reversed tool” and has made it a crew purpose to support the Foundation. A quick look at the Foundation’s website shows that many others have acted in kind.

If you have an example of living and working with purpose, share your story here.



Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive--The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Leadership in Cinema Gets a Facelift

I am proud to present the "new and improved" website for the Leadership in Cinema program. Jennifer Smith, NIFC External Affairs and advisor to the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, recently unveiled the newly designed site.

As coordinator of the program, I believe the new layout provides a more user-friendly atmosphere. This recent update brings a common look and feel of other libraries in the Leadership Toolbox such as the staff ride and tactical decision game libraries.

Leadership Challenge

As always, members of the wildland fire community are encouraged to submit lesson plans to the program. There is no official lesson plan format. Innovative ideas for keeping the program fresh and relevant would be appreciated.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Motivation – The Art of Mastery

(This is the second in a three-part series on motivation.)

Like some of you, I enjoy solving Sudoku puzzles. My first puzzles were so marked up that it’s a wonder I could succeed at all yet alone continue solving them. I quickly developed a system of looking at the puzzle that made solutions seem to jump out of the page without all the markups. Soon, I was cruising through the easy puzzles in record time. I seemed to have mastered the basic concept of solving Sudoku puzzles.

Mastery is what Daniel Pink, author of Drive—The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, believes motivates some people. I work with a number of wildland firefighters who engage in various strength and conditioning programs such as CrossFit and P90X®. These highly driven individuals look forward to their workout, journal their best efforts, and have a mindset that they can get better and better with each attempt. A small bit of friendly competition between individuals and within self adds an extra bit of drive and determination to their quests.

Pink suggests that there are three laws of mastery:
  • Mastery is a mindset.
  • Mastery is a pain.
  • Mastery is an asymptote.

Mastery is a Mindset

According to Pink, “the pursuit of mastery is all in our head.” The way we perceive something determines whether or not mastery is “impossible” or “inevitable.” Take our example above with the fitness workout group. How many times have tried a health or fitness program only to abandon it a short time later? The type of goals you set and how you approach tasks may very well be reasons for your lack of success.

Mastery is a Pain

This past year an adaptation of the movie “True Grit” was released. In the movie, Mattie Ross is determined to capture her father’s killer and hires U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a man with true grit, to assist her. The journey together isn't an easy one.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, grit is “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” Wildland firefighting is not a profession that fits everyone. If firefighting was easy or fun, everyone would be doing it. It takes true grit to master our trade.

Mastery, according to Pink, also involves flow. I equate flow to those periods when “time flies” and everything seems to run smoothly. Flow allows us to make it through the process when the pain of mastery would otherwise avert our attempt.

Pink provides a great quote by Julius Erving: “Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” Flow is what keeps us going.

Mastery is an Asymptote

When I began my present job with the wildland fire service, my ultimate goal was to create error-free documents. Every time someone found an error that I missed, I chastised myself. Luckily, I had a mentor who explained to me that if I truly expected every document to be free from error, we would never get one out the door. The closer I got to a project, the harder it was to see error. Not only that, but my brain compensated for some errors.

Pink refers to the nature of mastery as an “asymptote.” He says that we can get very close to mastery, but will never fully realize it. This can be a source of anxiety for some individuals; however, some find “joy in the pursuit more than the realization,” says Pink.

Ponder a few of these questions:

  • Where does flow exist in your life?
  • As a leader, do you know your subordinates well enough to know what brings joy to their work?
  • How can you work with your subordinates to promote flow and mastery?

In our final installment on motivation, we’ll discuss purpose.


Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive--The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Renewed Professional Reading Program

Are you a fan of the WFLDP's Professional Reading Program (PRP)? Over the last few months, a crew of dedicated individuals worked to bring about a new and improved website as well as revision to the Wildland Fire Book on Books.

PRP Library

Users of the program will want to browse through the newly established PRP Library. The format of the library emulates the staff ride and tactical decision game libraries. Arranged in an easy-to-use format, users can download resources, view the "Director's Choice" list of suggested books, suggest a book to the program, and browse the library of 100 books.

A very special thanks to Jennifer Smith, Leadership Subcommittee Advisor, for her work and dedication to revitalize the website.

Wildland Fire Book on Books

Incorporated into the web design update is the release of the 2011 revision of the Wildland Fire Book on Books. Jim McMahill, the National Park Service's Leadership Subcommittee Representative, and Phil Cocker, LA County FD, worked to add and remove books from the list.

Careful consideration is given when revising the list to ensure that the list doesn't exceed 100 titles. An archive feature will be added to the website in the near future capturing books that have been removed from the list.

This publication is no longer printed by the Leadership Subcommittee. Members of the task group determined that an electronic version with a downloadable option would suffice. The downloadable, print-ready Wildland Fire Book on Books can be found under the "Downloads & Resources" tab.

Leadership Challenge

Wildland firefighters are encouraged to submit books for consideration in the program as well as for discussion as blog topics.

I welcome any wildland firefighter who is passionate about reading and would be willing to facilitate a virtual book club. Now is the time to innovate and build our leadership skills.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Motivation - The Art of Autonomy

(This is a first of a three-part series on motivation.)

As a wildland fire leader, do you know what motivates your subordinates or do you unintentionally transfer what you prefer onto your subordinates or provide a one-size-fits-all approach to motivation?

In Daniel H. Pink's book Drive--The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink asserts that "Too many organizations--not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well--still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science."

Pink says institutions "continue to pursue practices such as short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes in the face of mounting evidence that such measures usually don't work and often do harm." Pink contends that people are motivated by a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy (Self-Direction)

Freedom, as Pink shares, is inherent in American culture. This country was formed on the base of freedom. He believes that our basic nature is to be curious and self-directed but that something has flipped our default setting. "That something could well be management--not merely how bosses treat us at work, but also how the boarder ethos has leeched into schools, families, and many other aspects of our lives."

So instead of controlling people, he says we should reawaken a deep-seated sense of autonomy and move away from the con game of present managerial models providing freedom in the "civilized form of controls" called "empowerment" and "flexibility."

Giving individuals autonomy in the wildland fire profession may seem difficult, but there are times with autonomy over team may bring benefits such as higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being.**

Consider the following:
  • Have you taken the time to really get to know your subordinates--to know what motivates them?
  • Do you subscribe to what may be an outdated method of managing your people?
  • Do you know how to flip your own default setting?
  • Do you believe autonomy discourages or fosters accountability?
  • What can you do as a manager or leader to give your employees more autonomy--to act with choice?
  • Discuss when autonomy over team may be beneficial. How can autonomy fit into a team environment?

Allowing more autonomy in the workplace may require that managers and leaders understand their managerial default settings. Linda Hill and Kent Lineback discuss change and managing various paradoxes in their HBR blog post "To Be a Better Boss, Know Your Default Settings."

In part two of the series, we'll discuss mastery.


*Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive--The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.

**Pink, Daniel (as cited in Deci and Ryan, "Facilitating Optimal Motivation and Psychological Well-Being Across Life's Domains," citing many other studies).