Monday, October 31, 2011


(Paul Gleason and Jim Cook)

"I would like to challenge the contemporary thinking that something or someone has to be new to be good. We make a grave mistake when we look at the future with our backs to the past. The past is what brought us to where we are." - Ralph Shrader

I recently moved into a new office and had the opportunity to walk down memory lane as I sifted through my leadership files. One of the articles I came upon was “Ralph Shrader’s Leadership Test: Is Anybody Following?” as published on January 12, 2005, in Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP) is an example of an enduring institution found within the wildland fire service. Agency leaders tasked with maintaining the program have vowed to bring about cultural change through “innovation and adaptation, leadership that balances stability and change, and being committed to excellence” (Shrader, 2005).

The test of an enduring institution is whether or not it can survive through leadership turnover. The WFLDP has had many great leaders, including Paul Gleason who died in 2003 and Jim Cook who retires at the end of the year. Cook, co-chair of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, has been a guiding force in wildland leadership development. Cook’s departure will affect the institution, but Cook leaves an enduring institution as his legacy. Cook's contributions and mentoring leaves successors well-equipped and prepared to carry the torch forward.

Here are some encouraging words for upcoming WFLDP leaders:

  • "The only way a next generation of innovators comes into existence is with the guidance and shaping of successful leaders who have gone before." ~ Gregg Fairbrothers, adjunct professor of business administration at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth speaking after the death of Apple's Steve Jobs.
  • "Level 5 leaders set up their successors for even greater success." ~ Jim Collins, from his book Good to Great.
  • "I don't have to do it alone." ~ Coach Jim Caldwell, answer to "How will you fill those big shoes?" following Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy's retirement.

Thanks for showing us the way and being such a great leader, Jim!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chilean Mine Disaster Revisited

It hardly seems like a year has passed since 33 miners were rescued during the Chilean mine disaster. The Washington Post's On Leadership contributor Melissa Steffan conducted a follow-up interview with Minister Laurence Golborne about his leadership under pressure during the crisis. I found his reflections in "One Year After the Chilean Mine Rescue, Minister Laurence Golborne Reflects on Leadership under Pressure" interesting in light of Monday's post.

Here are a couple of nuggets:

  • Establish a relationship based on trust and truth.
  • Hundreds of people working together can make miracles.
  • Leaders must learn how to listen, how to listen to people and then make decisions.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Melissa Minister Golborne a few questions. Reflect upon your leadership and share your answers to similar questions below by commenting on the blog.

  • What lessons have you been able to take away from your wildland leadership experience over the last year?
  • What does good leadership mean to you?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Drifting Away

"Building the team" is a guiding principle of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program. So, how do you know when your team begins to drift apart? Jesse Lyn Stoner presents the following warning signs of team drift in "Diagnose and Cure Team Drift," a blog entry on the HBR Blog Network.

  • You leave meetings feeling like they've been a waste of time, or you decide to stop having team meetings because they're not productive.
  • You have to redo work or discover there's been duplication of efforts.
  • There is increasing interpersonal conflicts within the team.
  • Team members don't have access to the information they need to do the job right and end up having to redo work.
  • You are inundated with day-to-day demands. Everything is a priority.
  • Crisis management has become a way of life. As soon as one problem is solved, another appears.
  • Your team is not getting the recognition and respect it deserves from the rest of the organization.

What can you do to build the team? Here is some sound advice from Leading in the Wildland Fire Service.

Fire leaders set the stage by creating an environment in which cohesive teams thrive: establishing a foundation of trust, enabling healthy conflict, requiring commitment, setting an expectation of accountability, and bringing focus to the team result.


Leaders start by building a foundation of trust in teams.

  • Communication is the key to building trust.
  • Communicate openly with teams and make sure to convey the essence of your values, mission, and vision.

Healthy Conflict

Leaders create teams that engage in healthy conflict.

  • Enable a dynamic exchange of ideas, the voicing of diverse viewpoints, and, ultimately, innovative solutions.
  • Focus on the what not the who.


Leaders create teams committed to the mission.

  • Seek input and delegate appropriately
  • Involve team members from the start and actively solicit contributions
  • Make people responsible, give them enough authority to accomplish their assignment, and hold them accountable.

Peer Accountability

Leaders create teams in which team members hold each other accountable.

  • Set the example by demonstrating that team members can hold us accountable.
  • Encourage peers to give feedback on our own performance in meeting stated goals.

Team Results

Leaders create teams that focus on the team result.

  • Articulate a clear end state
  • Specify success criteria so that team members can turn intent into focused and decisive action.


Leaders create an atmosphere that fosters resilience: teams taht can bounce back when problems or errors threaten cohesion and synergy.

  • Establish and expectation that people at all levels communicate effectivly by practicing the Five Communications Responsibilities.
  • Communicate clear leader's intent, making sure all team members understand the end state and the objectives needed to reach the end state.
  • Define roles and responsibilities so all team members have a clear picture of what they are supposed to do and how they fit into the bigger picture.
  • Track situation status so team members understand what progress has been made and can alert others when deviations occur.
  • Develop contingency plans to extend decisional space. Maintain the advantage over the environment by planning for error or unexpected evetns and calculating responses in advance.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Food for Thought and Discussion

So, here is a video that should promote thought and discussion about female leadership. Submit a comment or better yet, wildland fire female leaders, send a video message sharing your advice.

Jane Harman's Advice for Female Leaders, On Leadership.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Women of Wildland Fire

A soon-to-be blog contributor sent me a link to an article from The New York Times titled "No Longer is Leadership a Man's Club" that spawned the next blog series.

I am fortunate to have worked with some wonderful women during the 27 years I've been involved with wildland fire. These courageous women cleared the path in a male-dominated culture and profession. The leadership legacies of these women have changed our culture.

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to showcase female leaders of fire. Therefore, I need your help.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Do you know of a female leader who has helped shape your career and contributed to wildland fire? Share your stories and comments with each other by commenting or submitting a full blog entry.

Featured Story

I'll begin the discussion with an all-women wildland Apache 8 firefighting crew from the White Mountain Apache Tribe: the Apache 8. These women were featured in a documentary called Apache 8 by Sande Zeig, producer/director, with funding from Native American Public Telecommunications and the National Geographic All Roads Project.

Additional resources about Apache 8:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Success or Failure

Here is a leadership challenge for readers.
  1. Watch the following short video:
  2. Post comments and participate in dialogue with one another about setting goals and whether or not goal setting has helped or hindered your leadership development. Are you nurturing successes or failures? Share your stories here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Anointed Ones

As someone who develops training and workforce development products, I cringe when I hear that budget cuts and workforce reductions are being considered. Training is often the first thing cut and the last thing added during tough financial times. I applaud those fire managers that invest in their subordinates because it is the right thing to do--even in the tough times.

A few years ago, I started addressing difficult situations by posing the following question: Does this situation represent an obligation or present an opportunity? A lot of managers view training of their subordinates as an obligation. Leaders know that developing their subordinates for the future is a duty and look for opportunities in the midst of financial hardships. Good leaders find the way.

Nearly as bad as the manager who cuts training is the manager who develops the rare few--the anointed ones. I found an interesting post on the Leading Blog referencing Rajeev Peshawaria, author of Too Many Bossess, Too Few Leaders.

"Peshawaria raises an important question: 'Does it still make sense to identify a few, anoint them as high potentials, and invest disproportionately in their development? As leaders, we are not good stewards of people if we don’t give everyone a 'similar development diet' and let the 'cream rise to the top on its own'."

The blog goes on to say "Peshawaria asks, 'What if the world changes in ways that require a totally different type of potential in five years compared with the benchmarks used to identify today’s high potentials? What about late bloomers—those who may not show early brilliance, but might become very valuable later on? And what about the negative impact on the morale of those not chosen as high potentials? It might be time to rethink the ‘best practice’ of identifying and developing a pool of high potentials.' Amen. Then too, we also might want to rethink what it means to be a leader and stop developing functional leaders and instead develop true leaders that can lead in changing contexts. That’s an entirely different focus."

Monday, October 3, 2011

In the Face of Fear

"Fear destroys peoples dreams, it destroys our minds and bodies, it stops us in our tracks like a huge lion in your pathway. Fear stops us from taking the action we need to take in order to be all that we can be. Our potential is so much more than we sometimes perceive." ~ Greg De Tisi.
I remember a time when the slogan "Fear This" could be found on t-shirts and bumper stickers. After 9/11, fear again became a commonly used term. Terrorism has changed our way of life. We realize we have always been, and will forever be, vulnerable.

But should fear impair our ability to act? The heroic efforts of those unselfish Americans on United Flight 93 during that fateful day in September 2001 showed that fear could be realized and turned into a powerful positive action. Their actions to bring down the terrorists in power of the aircraft may very well of saved the lives of many Americans.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a dear friend about how fears effect decision making. She mentioned that most often fear is located in our blind spots. Confronting our fears could very well open doors of opportunites that we felt were previously closed.

In yet another conversation, a coworker and I discussed the recent movement of firefighters commited to balancing work and family. He suggested that this movement may have an adverse effect on the fire organization. He contends that leaders may be becoming more content with their present jobs and becoming less likely to move up the ladder and into much needed upper level leadership positions.

I'm not sure if the last conversation was about contentment or fear. I've talked with quite a few fire leaders who've indicated that they could never fill the shoes of those who came before them.

What are your fears? How can you turn them into a positive action?

Additional information and reading:
Johnathan Fields on Uncertainty - an interview with Steven Pressfield