Thursday, June 30, 2011

Do You Have a Sense of Humor?

One tool that every leader has in their toolbox is a sense of humor. Knowing how and when to use it can be quite powerful.

Today's blog entry comes as a recommendation from Bryan Karchut - Division Chief, North Zone Fire Management, Black Hills National Forest. Thanks for the submission, Bryan!

Jonathan Frye in his November 4, 2007, blog post titled Humor and Leadership provides a link to "Enhance Your Sense of Humor from Reader's Digest" as well as numerous quotes about humor from various leaders in history.

Additional resource:

Humor and Leadership. Blaine Anderson. Journal of Organizational Culture. January 2005.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Matters Most to You?

Being in wildland fire since 1984, I've seen my fair share of firefighters go through significant life changes: marriages, divorces, birth of children, death, retirement, etc. Unfortunately, I've witnessed those firefighters who put their job before all else at the sake of all else.

Commitment to the job is commendable, but at what cost? This blog post is not meant to judge but to applaud those firefighters that have come up through the leadership program and are showing a new sense of balance amoung work, family, and community. These are the leaders who take a moment of personal reflection to clear their minds and focus on what matters most in order to be a better leader.

As we begin to see more and more firefighters reach mandatory retirement age, I ponder how many fire leaders are ready for the next stage of life--that beyond the fire service. Do you find your purpose in wildland fire or beyond the fireline? Are you mentoring others to take the reins up after your retirement? What matters most to you?

John Baldoni writes about planning for life beyond work in his HBR blog post titled "Make Time for What Matters Before It's Too Late."

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Culture of Resilience

“…we believe key leadership personnel, often frontline leadership, appear to have the ability to "tip" the organization in the direction of resilience and to serve as a catalyst to increase group cohesion and dedication to the ‘mission’." ~ George S. Everly, Jr., citing Malcom Gladwell

A couple of years ago, I assisted with compiling information from the High Reliability Organizing – What It is, Why It Works, How to Lead It training session sponsored by the Fire and Aviation Directorate Division of Fire Operations (BLM). I had limited knowledge of HRO at the time; however, I’ve resolved to become a student of fire on the subject. The “Mars Dead or AliveLeadership in Cinema lesson plan has been a by-product of a commitment to better understand the topic and contribute to the betterment of the organization.

As part of my ongoing HRO knowledge pursuit, I share highlights from an HBR Blog Network post titled “Building a Resilient Organizational Culture” by George S. Everly, Jr., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Executive Director of Resiliency Science Institutes at the University of Maryland Baltimore County Training Centers.

Frontline leaders are key to building a resilient culture. In a 2007 evaluation of L-380 Fireline Leadership, The Guidance Group, Inc. concluded that “training is producing significant improvement in performance of course participants…” These frontline leaders are modeling the attributes which Everly and his colleagues say have the “ability to ‘tip’ the organization”:

  • Optimism
  • Decisiveness
  • Integrity
  • Open communication while serving as conduits and gatekeepers of formal and informal information flows throughout the organization and enjoying high source credibility (ethos)

Everly and his colleagues suggest employing the following framework to build a resilient organization:

  • Understand that people prosper from success.
  • People learn while observing others.
  • Provide encouragement, support, and even mentoring.
  • Provide basic training in how to manage personal stress.

Resiliency traits of successful HROs:

  • Resilient organizations invest in their client base.
  • Resilient organizations are innovative in times of adversity.
  • Resilient organizations invest in their leaders.
  • Resilient organizations invest in all levels of their workforce.

Source: Building a Resilient Organizational Culture, George S. Everly, Jr., HBR Blog Network, June 24, 2011.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Honoring our "Commander"

Photo credit: IAWF

A humble man, Jim Cook, Chairperson of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, is not one to dwell upon his accomplishments. In the last couple of months, Jim has received two well-deserved awards: The International Association of Wildland Fire's "International Safety Award" and the USDA "Unsung Hero" Award.

Congratulations, Jim!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fire Science Degree's Top 25 Wildfires of All Time

Fire Science Degree recently posted their version of the top 25 wildfires of all time. Here are the top five.

  1. The Great Peshtigo Fire
  2. Cloquet Fire
  3. The Great Hinckley Fire of 1894
  4. The Great Miramichi Fire
  5. The Big Burn

Check out the Fire Science Degree website for more information about the fires.

We would like to hear your input. Do you agree? Disagree? Have others for honorable mentions?

Be sure to check out the WFLDP's Staff Ride Library for other notable fires.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Leadership Example from NASA

Earlier this month, "The Federal Coach" ran an interview with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. I thought that his answers to their questions were great messages to aspiring leaders.

Here are some of my favorite conclusions from the article:

  • You don't know you can do something unless you try.

  • Training and preparation are vital to leadership success.

  • Take responsibility for your actions and don't be afraid to tell people you don't know something.

  • Spend a significant amount of time with partner agencies.

  • Take care of your people; they will take care of you.

  • Stay in touch with people at all levels.

  • Lead by example.

I encourage you to read "NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on leadership: "At NASA, we do big things".

Source: The Washington Post. The Federal Coach blog. June 1, 2011.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Becoming a Student of Fire- A Teacher

“If you choose to lead others you will leave a legacy. But that legacy will be determined by those that follow you. I suppose I would want my legacy to be that firefighters begin to realize the importance of being a student of fire and that I was able to help make that happen.” - Paul Gleason

Teaching is leading. This has become more apparent to me personally over the last few months as I continue to recognize the importance of good teachers, mentors, and a community that focuses on learning.

Most of us in the fire management world know about Paul Gleason, or at least are influenced by his teachings. He introduced LCES, developed the chainsaw training course, and was instrumental in the development of fire behavior and fire effects courses, to name just a few of his accomplishments. But it was his idea about becoming a student of fire that I feel was his most profound lesson.

Other than on a couple prescribed fire projects along the front range in Colorado when I was beginning my fire career I never worked directly for Gleason. Just having him involved with local fire trainings, having him teach and tell his stories, was a very powerful and enriching learning environment. I can remember how his stories would draw you in and allow you, as the student, to experience some of what he experienced. His wealth of experience added to his ability to tell stories and it became part of the student, instilling in them experiences and knowledge of his own life. That is what a good story teller and teacher does, they bring a story to life.

Gleason always encouraged fire fighters to become students of fire. When I first heard this, I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew I wanted to find out. This lesson about becoming a student of fire, for me, goes very deep. It is much more than just studying fire behavior or suppression tactics, or about historic fire events, or about accidents and fatality fires. For me is gets into the depth of what makes us human, it represents everything about learning, about leading, and about life. The lesson about being a student of fire to me means I am always learning, asking questions, striving to improve both in my profession and personal life. This part of Gleason’s legacy continues to grow within me on a daily basis and in a way Gleason lives on through others as they remember and emulate ideas or lessons they learned through his powerful stories.

With the fires going now in Arizona and the link to Gleason’s story to the historic Dude Fire, take some time to reflect what it means to be a student of fire. And more importantly, remember the lessons from one of the wildland fire communities greatest heros.

Some great links to honor his legacy:

LCES and Other Thoughts by Paul Gleason

Fire Management Today, Volume 63, No 3, Summer 2003, “Gleason Complex”, pg 85

Standing Accountable- Lessons Learned from Cerro Grande, presentation by Paul Gleason at S490 course.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rock Solid Leadership

Early in this blog's history, I came across the Simple Truths inspirational website. I enjoyed the Rock Solid Leadership movie and share the following quote:

"...leadership is not something you're born with. And it can't be awarded or appointed; it must be earned."

Photo: LtCol Eric Carlson (ret) reading from Joshua Chamberlain's book, Gettysburg Staff Ride 2010,

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What Do You Have to Lose?

“Wildland fire operations have inherent risks that cannot be eliminated, even in the best of circumstances.” (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 10)
So does what you have to lose weigh more heavily on what you have to gain when making decisions on the fireline? Are you quick with decisions or more methodical in your approach? Do you embrace risk?

I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about whether we as a wildland fire service have created a culture where leaders are somewhat reluctant to make timely decisions in an environment filled with inherent risks. Has the liability insurance buzz and focus on risk caused our culture to become overly cautious and less courageous in our decision making?

In no way am I minimizing the importance of one’s duty to properly refuse risk, mitigate risk, or acknowledge the need to expect the unexpected. I am only posing the question of whether our focus on risk mitigation has influenced our ability to make courageous and timely decisions.

Heidi Grant Halvorson provides great insight into this topic in her HBR blog article “Getting Others to Embrace Risk,” She attests that “Americans in general are becoming more timid with regard to risk and focused much more on what we have to lose than on what we might gain.” She presents two types of risk takers:
  • Prevention-focused (what we have to lose) – those focused on security, avoiding mistakes, and fulfilling responsibilities
  • Promotion-focused (what we have to gain) – those focused on getting ahead, maximizing your potential, and reaping the rewards
So how do these focuses affect decision making?
  • Prevention focus - avoiding loss leads to accuracy, careful deliberation, thoroughness, and a strong preference for “the devil you know”
  • Promotion focus – potential gain leads to speed, creativity, innovation, and embracing risk
What do you think? Should our decision makers be more prevention or promotion focused? Should we as an organization acknowledge the inherent elements of risk and focus our efforts on teaching our leaders how to properly embrace risk?

“Research shows that even the most timid, prevention-minded person among us will gladly take a risk, once you help him understand why it would be a greater risk not to.” – Heidi Grant Halvorson

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do

"Monkey see, monkey do is a saying that originated in Jamaica in the early 18th century and popped up in American culture in the early 1920s. The saying refers to the learning of a process without an understanding of why it works." (Wikipedia)

The following story, found all over the Web, was forwarded to me by Roger Armstrong, a fellow fire leader and friend from Australia.

(A rationale for unwritten ground rules and their costs)

If you start with a cage containing five monkeys and inside the cage, hang a banana on a string from the top and then you place a set of stairs under the banana, before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray all the other monkeys with cold water. After a while another monkey makes an attempt with same result. All the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put the cold water away. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, all of the other monkeys beat the crap out of him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted. Next, remove another of the original five monkeys, replacing it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm. Then, replace a third original monkey with a new one, followed by a fourth, then the fifth.

Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs. Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

Finally, having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, none of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the banana. Why, you ask? Because in their minds that is the way it has always been.

The Moral of the Story

Does this sound like your workplace? Your team?

Sometimes it pays to listen to the new monkey. They often perceive situations with which you are familiar with a different perspective.

A new monkey has the potential to question the way we do things around here from within a contemporary rather than historical context.

If you listen to the new monkey there are rewards and opportunities to be realised that cannot be seen by older and wiser heads.

Are you an older and wiser head? Do you listen to your new monkeys?


Image compliments of babytalk clothing
(No monkeys were hurt in the development of this story.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ethos - Our Guiding Beliefs

"Directed inward, the Warrior Ethos grounds us, fortifies, us, and focuses our resolve." - Steven Pressfield in Warrior Ethos
During the latest NWCG Leadership Subcommittee meeting, discussion revolved around the term ethos. Merriam-Webster defines ethos as "the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution."

Fellow blogger Billy Schmidt showcased Steven Pressfield's new book, The Warrior Ethos (available for free in Lightbox format on his website). Many will recognize Pressfield from his book Gates of Fire which is featured in our Professional Reading Program library. Pressfield does an incredible job of explaining the "warrior ethos" concept. I suggest that all wildland firefighters read this short, 112-page book filled with understandable vignettes as a background for understanding our own wildland fire leadership ethos--Leading in the Wildland Fire Service.

Here are some thoughts/quotes from Warrior Ethos for consideration and discussion here or with your team:
  • The Warrior Ethos is not, at bottom, a manifestation only of male aggression or of the masculine will to dominance. Its foundation is society-wide. It rests on the will and resolve of mothers and wives and daughters--and, in no few instance, of female warriors as well--to defend their children, their home soil and the values of their culture.
  • No one is born with the Warrior Ethos, though many of its tenets appear naturally in young men and women of all cultures.
  • Courage--in particular, stalwartness in the face of death--must be considered the foremost warrior virtue.
  • Courage is inseparable from love and leads to what may arguably be the noblest of all warrior virtues: selflessness.
  • The group comes before the individual.
  • The interesting thing about peoples and cultures from rugged environments is that they almost never chose to leave them.
  • Selflessness produces courage because it binds men together and proves to each individual that he is not alone.
  • The feat that inspires witnesses to honor it is almost invariably one of selflessness.
  • The will to fight, the passion to be great, is an indispensable element of the Warrior Ethos. It is also a primary quality of leadership, because it inspires men and fires their hearts with ambition an the passion to go beyond their own limits.
  • A warrior culture trains for adversity.
  • “This man was a fighter when he was my age. He has taken the lessons he learned as a warrior dueling external enemies and is turning them to use now as he fights internal foes to achieve mastery over himself.”~Alexander the Great
  • The hardest thing in the world is to be ourselves.

Source: The Warrior Ethos. Steven Pressfield. Black Irish Entertainment, LLC. 2011.