Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Future of Leadership

Watch the following clip presented by IBM on the future of leadership.

Here are a couple of good links from The Lead Change Group:

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dreaming: The Heart of Innovation

Somewhere out there are wildland firefighters who have ideas that need to be shared. They are gifted to see what others may not be able to see. They are dreamers and innovators. Innovators should never be afraid to share their ideas--there is great merit in their willingness to dream.

I observed an L-480 training session recently where innovation was discussed. The instructor (Dr. Curt Braun) used this video to introduce the topic to students and see if there were possible applications in wildland firefighting:


Are you a firefighter who scoffed at the video or did you see a potential use? All too often, we stifle creativity because we fear what others will think or how much funding is required. Mind you, these are legitimate concerns, but dreaming is the heart of innovation. We should be encouraging innovation and sharing our ideas to bring wildland firefighting forward.

How about something like using social media? Could this concept be adapted for use on the fire ground?

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge
  • What innovative ideas do you have to share?
  • Is there technology that we should be using that we aren't?
  • How could we use technology to move forward?
  • How should we change in order to train and lead the new generation firefighter?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Leaving a Leadership Legacy - Marshall, Selflessness

General George C. Marshall
Photo: Wikipedia 
General George C. Marshall believed that "only by embracing candor, selflessness, commitment, integrity and courage can a leader achieve the goals of effective leadership."

In George C. Marshall Foundation's "George C. Marshall: Legacy of Leadership: Chapter 3 - Selflessness" we see Marshall's placement of the Army's needs over his own. He offers to resign his position as Chief of Staff in order to lead the way to a more youthful military organization. He knows that he must lead by example to make change.

See for yourself what happens...

Have you experienced a leader who placed the needs of others and the organization before themselves? Share your stories here!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Of Starfish and Spiders

Guest post by Mike DeGrosky, Guidance Group, Inc.

Have you recently heard people refer to their organization as a “starfish” or contrast “starfish organizations” from “spider organizations”?  If not, you likely will, because starfish and spiders have become all the rage in corporate circles.  The idea goes like this.  Organizations can look like spiders, with the spider’s eight legs representing organizational divisions and units controlled by a central head.  Or, organizations can look like starfish, with multiple arms, each representing a separate neural network without need for a central head.  Cut off a spider’s leg and you have a spider with one less leg.  Cut off the spider’s head and the whole spider dies, including all the legs.  But, cut off a starfish’s arm and, not only does the starfish not die, but it grows a new arm, the cut arm survives, and it may even turn into a new starfish.  We want our organizations to be more like starfish, de-centralized, independent and resilient.

We owe the starfish and spider analogy to authors Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, whose book The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations caught the attention of organizations like Google, Mozilla, SUN Microsystems, and YouTube.  While the book came out in paperback in 2007, it still seems to be generating some buzz, apparently because a recent NPR news story reported that the book struck a chord among members of the Tea Party.

I found Braf and Beckstrom’s starfish and spider analogy creative and thought provoking, and the authors do a good job arguing that society is witnessing a revolution favoring decentralized, self-organizing entities. However, the book suffers from one, serious conceptual weakness in that the authors contend that starfish organizations are “leaderless” organizations.  With careful reading, Braf and Beckstrom’s conclusion that decentralized, self organizing concerns are leaderless breaks down for several reasons.  

First, the authors confuse technological innovations and systems (such as the Internet) with organizations, and then offer them as examples of their premise.  Second, Braf and Beckstrom confuse decentralized organizations and open systems with an absence of leaders.  To accept the premise that these are “leaderless” organizations requires accepting a very traditional conception of leaders as controlling, heroic and special people rather than participants in the leadership process.  Finally, the authors repeatedly refer to “leaderless organizations” but consistently report on the visionary, influential people responsible for the existence and success of those organizations.  Most people I know would agree that vision and influence represent hallmarks of leadership and that visionary influencers are, by definition, leaders.  I found it peculiar that the authors’ iconic organizations don’t have leaders, but they do have visionary, influencers called “catalysts.”  That’s one way to support your premise of organizations without leaders, just re-name leaders catalysts.  

I think the starfish analogy is a good one.  The world doesn’t seem to favor rigid, highly centralized organizations anymore.  We want our organizations to be like the starfish; decentralized and resilient open systems.  However, I would argue that the successful decentralized open system organizations springing up around us are not leaderless, but organizations with distributed leadership. 

Recent leadership research makes clear that people’s understanding of what constitutes effective leadership is changing.  In fact, research by the Center for Creative Leadership found that practicing leaders in the U.S. believe that people in our society had changed how they defined leadership, and that our conception of leadership would continue to change into the foreseeable future.  In the past 15 years, leadership scholars have increasingly formed and advanced a view of leadership as something that should be dispersed throughout the organization and prove sensitive to the demands of our emerging information society. From this point of view, we seem to be gradually shifting our view of effective leadership from traditional, individualistic, and leader-centric approaches toward more collective or collaborative models.  

Many leadership scholars and writers seem to agree that leadership constitutes a relationship jointly produced by leaders and followers.  They point out that many popular notions of leadership reinforce an outdated, heroic leader stereotype and fail to address either the reciprocal nature of influence in the leadership process or the plurality of modern organizational life.  In real life, everyone in the organization bargains, exercises or withholds their power, accepts or resists the power of others, negotiates understandings and agreements, and does what they must to contribute to the organization’s mission and future.   

Clinging to the stereotype of a “leader,” as a central figure engaged in topdown control and management, is what I believe led Braf and Beckstrom to conclude that their starfish organizations are somehow leaderless organizations.  I contend that the authors did not identify leaderless organizations at all, but organizations that share leadership as a process and responsibility, and distribute that responsibility throughout the organization.  I do not mean that everyone in the organization simultaneously leads, but that in these organizations, multiple people have the potential to exercise leadership. 

Leadership is not the possession of an individual and not a fixed phenomenon, but a dynamic, emergent property.  People move in and out of the leadership role constantly. By thinking of leadership in this way, we move beyond trying to understand leadership as the actions and beliefs of individual leaders and begin to understand leadership as a dynamic organizational process. 

This way of thinking about leadership means that at any given time, multiple leaders can exist in any team, unit, or organization; with those leaders playing integrated and complementary roles. This leadership model emphasizes active development of leadership abilities for all members of the organization.  The central assumption is that each member has some leadership contribution to make that the organization will need at some time as the organization’s leadership needs shift and change.

Distributed leadership does not mean that we have done away with formal organizational leadership structures.  In fact, those in formal leadership roles maintain responsibility to provide informal leaders with opportunities to lead at appropriate times and support them as necessary.

Mike DeGrosky is Chief Executive Officer of the Guidance Group, a consulting organization specializing in the human and organizational aspects of the fire service, and an adjunct instructor in leadership studies for Fort Hays State University.  Follow Mike on Twitter@guidegroup or via LinkedIn.

Wildfire Thoughts on Leadership – Nov/Dec 2010
Copyright © 2010 Guidance Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
This is an expanded version of a column first appearing as Thoughts on Leadership in the November/December 2010 issue of Wildfire magazine, the official publication of the International Association of Wildland Fire, published by Penton Media.

Additional Resources
Be sure to check out other articles in the Guidance Group's Article Library.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Readers are Leaders - A Look at the San Juan IHC

(Today's post is compliments of San Juan IHC Superintendent Jay Godson. He shares how they utilize the Professional Reading Program to promote leadership.)


Each year during the initial crew refresher, the San Juan Hotshots read and discuss a book generally centered on leadership skills and abilities.

Book Selection

The process of selecting a book is not difficult but requires some thought. The book should appeal to a wide audience and be a relatively short, easy read.


Each member on the crew receives and is encouraged to read the book at least a month before the start of the season. During spring training, leaders block out an appropriate amount of time to discuss the book.  Depending on the book, crew members generate discussions that are very relevant to wildland firefighting, but all of the discussions generated concern leadership.  

Potential Discussion Points
  • How does the book's theme relate to wildland firefighting?
  •  What leadership trait does the main character display that you like/dislike?
  • Who helped to resolve the situation? Who did not help?
  • Why did a certain decision change the course of the book?
  • When did an action create a point of no return?

The book is what drives the discussion process, so any of the above questions may or may not be relevant. We have read books from the military, personal survival stories, and sports; this years selection will be a Sci-Fi book.

Some years generate very good discussion, others not so much. A lot depends on how well the book appeals to the crew.

This Seasons Book
  • Enders Game by Scott Orson Card

Previous Selections
  • One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick - 2011
  • It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Capt. Michael D. Abrashoff - 2010
  • '59: The Story of the 1959 Syracuse Football Team - 2009
  • Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marine Corps by David Freeman - 2008
  • Endurance: Shackleton’s Amazing Voyage by Alfred Lansing - 2007
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer - 2006


Since inception, the San Juan Hotshots have found this activity an excellent method of building crew cohesion. Members of the crew come together to discuss a common topic as well as develop leadership skills.

Members of any crew, team, or group--not just IHCs--may find this a great way build cohesion.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Leaving a Leadership Legacy - Marshall, Candor

General George C. Marshall
Photo: Wikipedia 
General George C. Marshall believed that "only by embracing candor, selflessness, commitment, integrity and courage can a leader achieve the goals of effective leadership."

George C. Marshall Foundation's "George C. Marshall: Legacy of Leadership: Chapter 2 - Candor" showcases an event in Marshall's career where he exhibits brutal honesty with his commanding officer. He puts the needs of his subordinates first and took full responsibility for the short-comings of his men.

Have you witnessed a leader exhibit candor with a supervisor? What was the outcome? (Respectful dialogue is expected.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leaders We Would Like to Meet - Barb Stewart

More important than legacy is being able to look at myself in the mirror and say, 'I have done the best I could with what I had today.' That I am able to start the new day with yesterday behind me. ~ Barb Stewart

Be sure to check out the newest installment of "Leaders We Would Like to Meet" featuring Kyle Swanstrom's interview with Barb Stewart, National Park Service.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Fire is My Tool" - A Moment with Brett Fay

Take a moment out to watch Brett Fay, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, share some leadership nuggets in a new video series from the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center called "Looking Back - Moving Forward."


Friday, February 10, 2012

Leaving a Leadership Legacy - Marshall, Questions

General George C. Marshall
Photo: Wikipedia 
This week we present the first of seven videos created by the George C. Marshall Foundation. Marshall believed that leaders possessed candor, selflessness, commitment, integrity and courage.

I found these quotes thought provoking:
* "Every leader can achieve the heroic.
* "Only by embracing  candor, selflessness, commitment, integrity and courage can a leader achieve the goals of effective leadership.
* "The world was changing, and I was there."

Fire leaders and citizens are in the midst of incredible change in this country. Now is the time to assess your values and principles and step up to serve your communities and organizations.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lessons Learned from Chicago FD

Brian Fennessy, Assistant Fire Chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and local agency representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, shared this video with me. With the assistance from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, our fellow firefighters in the structural fire world have made a very powerful video for the "Everyone Goes Home" initiative.

Here are some quotes of value from members of the Chicago FD:
  • Safety is everyone's responsibility.
  • If you're not sure, ask. 
  • If you're not prepared, you have to learn.
  • Don't come to work complacent; come to work and keep learning. The day you stop learning on the job is the day you should retire.
  • Train the way you're gonna play...Nothing beats training.
  • Safety is first above everything!
  • Buckle up!
  • Know where you are at.
  • Take a minute and do your own size-up.
  • Talk to the older firefighters who have been through a lot more.
  • Respect the fire.
  • Understand what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  • Know where the fire is going next and the actions you should be taking to keep yourself safe.
  • A "mayday" should be a routine distress signal. Bring in additional resources to solve the problem.
  • Be fit and eat properly. Take advantage of tests and examinations that management offers.
  • Know your equipment and its limitations.
  • Be aware and ready for any fire.
  • There is no such thing as a routine incident. Be prepared for the unexpected.
  • Nothing prepares you for the pain and sorrow that follows a line-of-duty death.
  • The courage to be safe is up to you.
  • When you think you're on the top of your game and you think you're really good at it, it will humble you. Don't ever take anything for granted. if you do, it will kill you!
  • Execute the basics to the fullest.
  • Courage in the face of danger means everyone goes home.
Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge:
  • Take time to view this video and share with your crews. The lessons learned and message apply to all firefighters--whether structural or wildland.
  • Make a crew video that shares the wildland fire perspective.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Are You Stuck in the Sea of Uncertainty?

"Without leadership and direction, groups produce uncertainty. Leaders always pursue opportunities while acknowledging realities. Successful leaders don’t get stuck. " ~ Dan Rockwell

If you are like me, your organization is or has been on an unending quest for change. With change comes uncertainty, and with uncertainty comes opportunity. A leader is often defined by the risk one takes and the trust his/her subordinates have in their leader to navigate through the change effort.
Fellow blogger and leadership expert Dan Rockwell recently wrote a piece that struck home with me regarding the role that uncertainty plays in leadership development. Check it out below with other resources that may provide guidance.

Share your comments about leading through uncertainty, including lessons learned, words of advice, and resources.
Do you have questions for Dan? Post them on his Facebook page.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Leaving a Leadership Legacy - Marshall, Part 2

General George C. Marshall
Photo: Wikipedia 
In the George C. Marshall Foundation's "Soldier and Statesman - Part 2," we see the importance of Marshall's leadership as a public servant leading the effort to rebuild Europe after the war after his retirement from the military. His efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and recognition around the world.

Do you have a firefighter-statesman within your organization or who has retired that provides great leadership to organizations and communities outside our own wildland fire service. Share his/her story here!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

El Paso FD Embraces Leadership

El Paso Fire Department
L-280 Followership to Leadership

Pictured Above (not in any particular order):
El Paso Fire Department personnel:  Vincent E. Frausto, James A. Younger, Rafael Reyes, Dennis A. Huff, Larry A. Hernandez, Carlos A Peidra. Gilberto Ramirez, Michael S. Bell, Troy V. Reister, Marcelo R. Morales, Jorge A. Rodriguez, Jorge V. Cortez, Jonathan P. Killings, David Valero, David W. Zeiger, Ricci J. Carson, Efrain Jr. Robles, Mathew S. Hiett, Richard Carpio, Jose Ortiz, Samuel Pena, and Kenneth C. Persinger. NWCG Leadership Sub-Committee Support Cadre: Heath Cota, Shane Olpin, Rob Morrow, and Randy Skelton

Story submitted by Randy Skelton, Deputy Fire Staff, Payette NF, USFS NWCG Leadership Subcommittee Agency Representative (interim)
El Paso Fire Department is on the path of the ultimate leadership challenge.  Similar to several other emergency response agencies, El Paso Fire Department is aggressively taking steps towards providing their personnel with a suite of leadership classes in order to promote cultural change within their fire department.  They began this endeavor by bringing in Mission-Centered Solutions (MCS) who provided Five (5) – Point of the Spear: Fire Service Leadership (NWCG L-380) courses since September 2009 to 106 individuals with cross-agency participation for El Paso Police Department, Fort Bliss Fire Department, Las Cruces Fire Department, Horizon City Volunteer Fire Department, West Valley Volunteer Fire Department and the Round Rock Fire Department.

El Paso is a city in, and county seat of, El Paso County, Texas. Encompassing 260 square miles and boasting a population of more than 650,000, El Paso is the sixth largest city in Texas and the 22nd largest in the United States. Located along the Rio Grande and just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, it lies at the intersection of three states (Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua) and two countries (United States and Mexico). The varied terrain features the Franklin Mountains which extend into the city from the north and nearly divide it in two sections.

US-Mexico Border Perspective
El Paso County was established in March 1850. The town of El Paso was developed later by pioneer Anson Mills and incorporated in 1873. The town’s population began to grow after World War I. Various industries developed in the area and major business development emerged in the 1920s and 1930s. The population declined in the Depression era, followed by rapid economic expansion post World War II. Expansion slowed again in the 1960s though the city has continued to see growth through increased trade with Mexico.

The City is proud to be home to the University of Texas at El Paso, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and Fort Bliss, the military complex located just east/northeast of the city.

Today, the El Paso Fire Department has 844 career firefighters and 41 civilian employees. EPFD is the primary city agency responsible for responding to and mitigating incidents involving fire, aircraft accidents, medical emergencies, hazardous materials incidents, building explosions, search and rescue events, and water rescues. All these services are delivered by fire service professionals, apparatus and equipment from thirty four neighborhood fire stations, one airport fire station at the El Paso International Airport, and six support facilities. Support facilities include the administrative offices, maintenance, fire prevention, training academy, communications, and reserve center.

The “leadership movement” began at the El Paso Fire Department in 2007 through a grass roots effort.  When Chief Otto Drozd came to the El Paso Fire Department in April 2009, he soon became a staunch supporter of this effort and approved the first pilot L-380 course for the department which was delivered in August of 2009.  Chief Drodz understood the department needed something significant to affect the culture and was courageous enough to take a chance.  In February of 2010, the vision and mechanics for the Leadership Enhancement and Development (LEAD) program was laid out and began with informational sessions at the training academy.  During the summer of 2010, they delivered their first L-80 (with a train-the-trainer assistance from Nick Zambito of Mission-Centered Solutions). 

Chief Drodz approved five L-380 courses for the department over the last two years.  For all five classes, the Chief has been the keynote speaker and shows his support by sitting in the L-180 and the most recent L-380 in April 2011.  He has given El Paso firefighters ownership of the program and has let them guide it from a genuine bottom-up, grass root effort and they are uncertain as to where they would be without his support.       
Jorge Rodriguez, a Captain with the El Paso Fire Department, soon realized their efforts were missing two key components of their leadership movement, L-180 Human Factors on the Fireline and L-280 Followership to Leadership.  The department took on the L-180 curriculum by “tweaking” it slightly to meet the structural environment and then proceeded in delivering it to the entire 800+ member department to include the Fire Chief, Assistant and Deputy Chiefs.  During this L-180 implementation, Captain Rodriguez was requesting a “train-the trainer” session through the NWCG Leadership Sub-Committee for the L-280 Followership to Leadership package. 

The NWCG Leadership Sub-Committee recruited a four person cadre to travel to El Paso, TX and deliver this “train-the trainer” session.  This effort was completely funded by the El Paso Fire Department illustrating their commitment towards cultural change within their department.  The NWCG “train-the trainer” cadre consisted of Shane Olpin – Fire Management Officer from the West Fork R.D.  of the Bitterroot N.F., Rob Morrow – Assistant Fire Management Officer from the McCall R.D. of the Payette N.F., Heath Cota – Superintendent of the Sawtooth Interagency Hotshot Crew and Randy Skelton – Deputy Fire Staff Officer from the Payette N.F.

The El Paso Fire Department now has a full complement of instructors, approximately 27 individuals who completed the “train-the-trainer” course, for “A” Shift, “B” Shift, and “C” Shift providing them the ability to offer the L-280 package in the most efficient manner across the entire department.  They plan to deliver L-280 the spring of 2012 through three courses in order to train 120 fire personnel consisting of a mix of new Drivers (FST’s), Firefighter-Paramedics, and Firefighters on FST promotional lists.

Meanwhile, Captain Rodriguez is actively pursuing adding the next step towards their goal by bringing in the Incident Leadership curriculum, an NWCG L-381 equivalency, within the next couple of years.  One key product they have developed out of this to date is an internal publication titled, “Leading in the El Paso Fire Department – Leadership Doctrine”, a key component of their Leadership Enhancement and Development Program (LEAD).

Captain Rodriguez was inspired to bring leadership training to the department after reading an article written by Brian Fennessy, an Assistant Chief with the San Diego Fire Department titled, “In Search of Cultural Change” (Fire Rescue Magazine, April 2010)”.  In this article, Chief Fennessy writes about the challenges SDFD faced as well as the fruits of their efforts to bring about cultural change and the effect those efforts have had on the nation with regard to developing first-line fire leaders as well as the impacts of the L-curriculum has had on local fire departments and what potential exists to a national cultural change in fire service leadership.

It was an honor and pleasure working with such a fine group of professionals who truly care about each other, the citizens and community they serve and protect.  Captain Rodriguez is young and talented visionary who is motivating members within the department to take on these leadership challenges.  He should be commended for this extraordinary effort! 

Jorge’s vision:
“To build a coalition of leaders, with a sound foundation in values/principle based decision-making, with a high bias for action to influence our culture and take EPFD to a new level of excellence and national prestige”.

El Paso's Leadership Doctrine (click to view image)