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:


American said...

I think i depends on the type of crew you have. Are they individuals that have been around a few seasnons or are several of them rookies? Is it the first assignment of the year or is it the fourth or fifth assignment? You may need to very strict on the activities they perfrom on or way from the fire line at first in order to get them understand your
expectations and as time goes on you evaluate your crew and adjust.

Pam McDonald said...

I agree with you. Command and control is a vital part of our operations. Knowing the right amount of structure during each situation--regardless of the number of seasons one puts in--is the leader's duty.

Leaders must also show respect and build the team, not lead for the glory of power or to feed their egos. Leaders who consciously follow the Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles and are willing to adjust their leadership to varying situations will be far more effective.

Pam McDonald said...

I received the following quote from a WFLDP blog reader. James Redfield has this to say about "controllers."

"People who are controllers are not interested in truth and only marginally motivated by outcomes. What they want above all is the feeling of power that comes from dominating others. In order to do this, they make up any facts necessary to throw the other person off balance and undermine the target's confidence. If the controlling is successful, the target will lose their centered clarity altogether and begin to defer to the controller's opinion. This, of course, gives the controller a hit of energy and a sense of power from the attention gained.

Controlling is obsessive behavior, used to push away insecurity. Controllers don't want to debate the issues. They want only to shout down the opposition and win. This selfish insecurity can only be resolved when one finds true security. A spiritual connection inside where seeking the truth and being of service are more important than winning."