Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thomas Honored for Leadership

I believe in what I do and believe in the Fuels Program, I believe we can accomplish more putting fire on the ground and implementing or managing resource benefit fires. Fire is the best tool we have, and we should be using it more. We need to change our way thinking when comes to fires. ~ Ralph Thomas

Congratulations to Ralph Thomas for being one of four individuals selected for the 2011 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award.

Ralph Thomas
Fort Apache Agency, BIA

Leadership Citation for Initiative and Innovation:
Ralph has been instrumental in the development and growth of the BIA’s National Fire Mentoring Program. The program connects upcoming fire leaders with mentors to conduct field-oriented prescribed fire and suppression training. Ralph served as a mentor, field coordinator and role model in the BIA and tribal programs. He organically exhibited many of the leadership principles and values espoused by the leadership program. His quiet confidence is a catalyst to the mentees, providing an atmosphere which encourages time-compressed decision making, rapid team building, tactical skills and leadership development with a diverse mixture of firefighters from around the country in a dynamic environment. Even with advances in modeling programs and decision support tools used to translate data, knowledge and experience to make decisions with fire on the landscape is a crucial part of wildland fire service. The scope of Ralph’s mentoring will be felt for years to come as he continues to train others to conduct themselves with respect, professionalism, and leadership as students of fire.

Quotes from the Nomination:
  • "Ralph loves the challenge that fire brings and that love of engagement with fire is contagious to those that work with or for him."
  • "The confidence that he displays is seen as respect for his trainees which translates into greater achievements for the team."
Other Projects and Accomplishments:
  • Fort Apache's first Hotshot Superintendent (1984)
  • Division Supervisor and Air Tactical Group Supervisor on Southwest Area Incident Management Teams
  • Mentor/Field Coordinator, BIA National Fire Mentoring Program

Monday, May 28, 2012

Normalization of Deviance: Courageous Self-Leadership (Part 4)

Self-Leadership Lessons from Mike Mullane
Courageous self leaders:
  • Set lofty goals and challenge themselves in the extreme. 
  • Accept the challenge. 
  • Stay focused on the goals. 
  • Advance their education. 
  • Constantly do their best at everything. 
Relating the Concept to Wildland Fire
In addition the the items above, wildland firefighters abide by moral courage as found in Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, pp. 63-64:

"Wildland fire leaders demonstrate moral courage by adhering to high ethical standards and choosing the difficult right over the easy wrong. We avoid ethical dilemmas by directing team members to operate in ways that are consistent with our professional standards and by directing them only to actions they can achieve ethically.
When we make mistakes, we handle them in honorable and effective ways, fixing the immediate problem then searching for root causes. Leaders with moral courage look for causes, not scapegoats, learning and improving, looking for ways to turn weaknesses into strengths.
An outgrowth of strong character, moral courage enables us to build trust with our teams and gain respect from peers. Although some may judge that leading ethically compromises short-term gains, leading ethically allows us to accomplish more than our mission.
Because the consequences of ethical decisions can be great and those who make such decisions may be asked later to justify their conclusion, following a careful and thorough process is a wise approach in situations with ambiguous courses of action. The values of duty, respect, and integrity should weigh heavily in any ethical decision." 

Other References
With the fire season upon us, take a moment to review this topic with your crews. We are operating in sub-optimal environments during challenging times. Fire leaders must take the time to instill this concept into their operational environments.

Thanks to Brian Fennessy, Local/County/Rural Representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, for referring this great video series.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"By Endurance We Conquer" - Sir Ernest Shackleton (Part 8)

"Shackleton's greatest characteristic was the ability to compel loyalty even against his men's better judgment." ~ Roland Huntford, polar historian
(Artist rendering of the crew aboard the James Caird in heavy seas, Cool Antarctica website)

In Part 8 of "Endurance--Shackleton & the Antarctic," Shackleton, McNeish, Crean, McCarthy, Vincent, and Worsley set sail on an extraordinary journey of survival in the James Caird. 

Click here to preview Endurance--Shackleton & the Antarctic Part 8 of 11

Thoughts to Ponder
  • Wildland firefighters are often said to have "can do" attitudes. How does this relate to the tenacity of the James Caird crew? Give examples of how tenacity has worked positively on your crew.
  • Worsley's insight to convert the James Caird into a sailboat was heroic. Have you had a crew member who provided great leadership and innovation during a crisis situation?
Additional Information

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Normalization of Deviance: Avoiding Passenger Mode (Part 3)

"One person with courage forms a majority." ~ President Andrew Jackson

Avoiding the Passenger Mode 
In this video, Mike Mullane shares his idea that individuals have a sacred responsibility to maintain team presence and not become "passengers." He stresses that "the individual is the power of the team."

He encourages team members to:
  • Avoid the temptation to "go with the flow" (group think)
  • Avoid the tendency to defer to position and longevity.
  • Respect the power of the individual in a team environment.
  • Maintain team presence.

"Every individual has the right and obligation to report safety problems and contribute ideas regarding their safety. Supervisors are expected to give these concerns and ideas serious consideration." (Incident Response Pocket Guide, p. 17)

Excerpts from Leading in the Wildland Fire Service

Command Climate (p. 19)
Command climate refers to the environment within the influence of a particular leader or chain of command. Team members develop a perception of the command climate based on their understanding of how they are expected to perform, how they are treated, and how they must conform to their leader’s individual style and personality.

Fire leaders strive to create command climates based on trust in which people feel comfortable raising issues that may be problems and engaging in healthy debate over potential courses of action.

Establishing a positive command climate demonstrates respect for our teams and subordinates and generates far-reaching benefits: unity of effort, increased initiative among subordinates, and more timely error mitigation.

A positive command climate not only helps to avoid error but also enhances the team’s ability to recover from error when it occurs. Direct communication with open interaction among teams and their leaders—a key attribute of an effective command climate—is the first line of defense against error chains.

Good command climate is characterized by open communication, mutual trust and respect, freedom to raise issues and engage in debate, clear and attainable goals, and teamwork.

Communication (p. 22)
Communication is the primary tool for establishing an effective command climate. The ability to communicate effectively is universally rated as one of the most important leadership behaviors.

Communication is the foundation upon which we build trust and enable our teams to develop cohesion. Effective communication is a two-way process. Good leaders actively listen to build trust with others. Communication enables us to convey objectives and intent, break error chains, and improve situation awareness. Leaders are cognizant of the central role that communication plays in the ability to lead and always strive to become better communicators.

Leading Up (pp. 48-49)
Looking out for our people includes not only those who work for us but also our leaders and peers. Leadership is about influencing others to accomplish tasks that are in the best interest of our organization; this often means influencing those above us and leading up. Similarly, we are open to upward leadership--and, in fact, encourage and reward it.

Fire leaders are expected to lead in many directions, an expectation that increases complexity and risk. Summoning the courage needed to intervene and influence peers or leaders above can be difficult, especially if providing unwelcome feedback about behavior or pointing out an alternative to a potentially bad decision.

However, in high-risk environments, no one can afford to assume that anyone has all the answers. Everyone, at every level, can make mistakes or fee pressure to make decisions without adequate information or make decisions based on outdated information. The potential for error is inherently high.

To build the kind of healthy and resilient culture required in the wildland fire service, we lead up--holding our leaders accountable, providing unvarnished situation awareness in challenging situations, and offering unbiased and viable alternatives.

Other References

This is the third in a four-part series. We are operating and will continue to operate in sub-optimal environments. Fire leaders must take the time to instill this concept into their operational environments and as a part of the fireground culture.

Thanks to Brian Fennessy, Local/County/Rural Representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, for referring this great video.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Normalization of Deviance: Protecting Yourself From It (Part 2)

"Normalization of deviance is a long-term phenomenon in which individuals or teams repeatedly “get away” with a deviance from established standards until their thought process is dominated by this logic:  Repeated success in accepting deviance from established standards implies future success.  Over time, the individual/team fails to see their actions as deviant.  Normalization of deviance leads to 'predictable surprises' which are invariably disastrous to the team." (taken from

Teamwork Lessons from Mike Mullane
  • Recognize that you are vulnerable.
  • Plan the work and work the plan.
  • Consider your instincts and the people you lead.
  • Archive and review near-misses and disasters.
Excerpts from Leading in the Wildland Fire Service
Fire leaders build cohesive teams—not simply groups of individuals putting forth individual efforts—to accomplish missions in high-risk environments.

Cohesive teams are more creative and adaptable when dealing with complex situations. This enables them to detect and mitigate errors before irreparable damage occurs. Cohesion allows team members to anticipate the needs and actions of other team members. This increases efficiency and saves time.

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.

Healthy Conflict (p. 53)
Leaders create teams that engage in healthy conflict: enabling a dynamic exchange of ideas, the voicing of diverse viewpoints, and, ultimately, innovative solutions.

Peer Accountability (p. 54)
Leaders create teams in which team members hold each other accountable. More than any system of reward and discipline, more than any policy, the fear of letting down respected teammates and peers represents the most effective means of accountability.

Peer accountability is an outgrowth of trust and commitment. We set the example by demonstrating that team members can hold us accountable, encouraging them to give us feedback on our own performance in meeting stated goals.

Resilience (p. 55)
The ultimate team result is resilience: teams that can bounce back when problems or errors threaten cohesion and synergy. Resilient teams practice behaviors that reinforce situation awareness, communication, and learning.

We create an atmosphere that fosters resilient teams:
  • Establishing an expectation that people at all levels communicate effectively by practicing the Five Communications Responsibilities.
  • Communicating clear leader’s intent, making sure all team members understand the end state and the objectives needed to reach the end state.
  • Defining 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.
  • Tracking situation status so team members understand what progress has been made and can alert others when deviations occur.
  • Developing contingency plans to extend decisional space. Maintaining the advantage over the environment by planning for error or unexpected events and calculating responses in advance.

Other References
This is the second in a four-part series. We are operating and will continue to operate in sub-optimal environments. Fire leaders must take the time to instill this concept into their operational environments and as a part of the fireground culture.

Thanks to Brian Fennessy, Local/County/Rural Representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, for referring this great video.

Friday, May 18, 2012

"By Endurance We Conquer" - Sir Ernest Shackleton (Part 7)

"Shackleton had saved his men. In a sense he had gotten them all alive out of the ice and one terra firma, but now how to get back to civilization." ~ Roland Huntford, polar historian
(Men left on Elephant Island, Cool Antarctica website)

After seven bleak days at sea, the crew touches land for the first time in 497 days in Part 7 of "Endurance--Shackleton & the Antarctic."  Although on land, the party is in bad shape and conditions uninhabitable. Shackleton makes the decision to fetch help by setting sail in the James Caird with a few of the crew.

Click here to preview Endurance--Shackleton & the Antarctic Part 7 of 11

Thoughts to Ponder
  • Shackleton makes a bold decision to fetch help and break up the crew. What do you think of his plan? Discuss his decision with others.
  • What do you think about Shackleton's selection of the members he chose to sail for help? Have you dealt with difficult personalities on your team?
  • Shackleton redeems members of the crew who had been demoted. How do you feel about giving members of your team a second chance?
  • What do you think of Shackleton's leaving Wilde to lead the crew on Elephant Island?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Normalization of Deviance: An Example (Part 1)

"When it's my life on the line, what type of a team do I want out there holding it in the palm of their hand?" ~ Mike Mullane, retired NASA Astronaut

This is the first in a four-part series. We are operating and will continue to operate in sub-optimal environments. Fire leaders must take the time to instill this concept into their operational environments and as a part of the fireground culture. 

Wildland land firefighters are keenly aware of the inherent risks associated with wildland fire operations. In the fire service, there are many times we take on unnecessary risk and get away with it time and time again. Many times we are successful; however, it only takes the one time for our luck to run out. After seemingly being successful enough times, we normalize this deviance which then manifests itself in the appearance of what "right" looks like.

Leadership is sometimes necessary to break the normalization of deviance error chain.  In the above video, this level of leadership was needed but would have likely caused significant political exposure.  In the end, "right" is "right" and you "can’t un-know what you know!"

Excerpts from Leading in the Wildland Fire Service

Our First Priority: Life and Safety (p. 46)

The first of our standing incident priorities is life. No objective is worth the lives of our people; and we put the safety of our people first, above all other mission objectives. However, in the complex and high-risk environment of wildland fire, we realize we cannot completely guard our people from all the inherent risks involved in our work.

When the mission takes our people into harm’s way, fire leaders redeem their people’s trust by looking out for their well being: doing our best to make decisions that appropriately balance risk and potential gain, being watchful for unfolding conditions that may jeopardize their safety, and being present to share the risks and hardships. The leader being first in and the last out is a classic way of demonstrating the ideal of taking care of our people.

Operational Tempo (pp. 29-30)

We are most vulnerable to accidents and errors when the operational tempo is changing, especially when it changes quickly. Maintaining good situation awareness in spite of change in operational tempo represents a considerable challenge.

The key to managing operational tempo successfully is monitoring the changing environment and capabilities of the team, and then applying good judgment to determine whether to push forward or pull back while making necessary planning and resource adjustments.

Developing a Learning Organization (p. 42)

Leaders evaluate performance at all levels to understand the causal factors of successes and failures. All those involved learn incrementally, applying today’s lessons to the next assignment. This focus on continuous improvement brings with it a responsibility to share lessons learned throughout the organization.

Other References
This is the first in a four-part series. We are operating and will continue to operate in sub-optimal environments. Fire leaders must take the time to instill this concept into their operational environments and as a part of the fireground culture.

Thanks to Brian Fennessy, Local/County/Rural Representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, for referring this great video.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mentoring Your People

Mentoring (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service pp. 40-42)

Leaders help their people grow by mentoring and sharing experiences. Mentoring them begins their journey from followership to leadership.

Fire leaders coach and then step back to allow people to take on new responsibilities. Providing the opportunity to test new waters and try new behaviors is important in developing people for the future. 

We consider the individual skill levels and developmental needs when delegating tasks, making sure people have appropriate challenges that press them to grow and expand their skills.

DOI Fire and Aviation Mentoring

Department of Interior fire agencies, started by the National Park Service, have combined efforts to develop a web-based platform, Fire & Aviation Mentoring, to facilitate a knowledge sharing network in wildland fire management. 
  • Mentors and mentees benefit by sharing knowledge, expertise, values, skills, and perspectives.
  • Mentoring allows the learner to build skills and knowledge while attaining goals for career development.
  • Becoming a mentor provides an opportunity for the advisor to share his or her skills and knowledge.

Group Mentoring (Topical and Situational)
Group mentoring brings together learners and advisors to focus on a single topic. The options for communication are flexible, encouraging conversation through the online discussion board, group collaboration, and one-on-one interaction.

Peers in the group learn from the advisors and from one another, building stronger expertise across the workforce. Group collaboration gives individuals a way to address their immediate learning needs. Several people can offer solutions and ideas at the same time so that learners get quick hitting answers on high-impact issues, problems, challenges, or opportunities. Learners then synthesize this knowledge into a solution that fits their need and bring that solution back to their job.

Career Development Mentoring (One-to-One)
Individual learners looking for in-depth career advice and support can find it through one-on-one mentoring. These personal interactions focus on the specific competency and career development needs of the learner. Collaborations may focus on ways to gain experience that leads to development, advise on career direction and guidance on handling difficult situations.

This program is being piloted by the US Forest Service.

If you are a DOI employee, set up your account today!

Friday, May 11, 2012

"By Endurance We Conquer" - Sir Ernest Shackleton (Part 6)

"Shackleton's greatest characteristic was the ability to compel loyalty even against his men's better judgment." ~ Roland Huntford, polar historian

Part 6 of "Endurance--Shackleton & the Antarctic," presents what many of the crew said was their most challenging experience of the entire journey. Due to disintegration of the ice, the men set sail in life boats in hope of reaching land. Afloat, the men come near their breaking points.  Shackleton's continued determination to keep morale high and Orde-Lees' rising during the crisis to help save lives gave the men hope.
(The crew with life boats: Dudley Docker, James Caird, and Stancomb Wills, Cool Antarctica website)

Click here to preview Endurance--Shackleton & the Antarctic Part 6 of 11

Thoughts to Ponder
  • When moments get tough, what do you do as a leader to keep your crew calm?
  • Do you have a flame burning deep within you (a passion) for your people and your leadership?
  • What tools do you have in your leadership toolbox to engage the member of the crew who doesn't want to be a team player?
Additional Information

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"How to Build a Leader"

Here is a look back at the leadership module for the 2011 Annual Fireline Safety Refresher...


Monday, May 7, 2012

Lookabaugh Honored for Leadership

Congratulations to Patrick for being one of four individuals selected for the 2011 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award.

Patrick Lookabaugh
Whiskeytown Wildland Fire Management, NPS

Leadership Citation for Mentoring and Teamwork:
Throughout Patrick’s career, he has risen to the challenge of mentoring numerous firefighters and building cohesive, adaptable and highly motivated teams. The depth and experience his teams exhibited is a direct reflection of the leadership values he continually communicated and demonstrated. As a leader, Patrick ensures mentoring opportunities are available to those within his organization as well as allowing fire professionals from other agencies to learn by example through detail opportunities within his module. Additionally, Patrick contributed training and development to the wildland fire workforce as an instructor at Shasta College and the Northern California Training Center. These learning and mentoring moments are recognized at the local, regional and national levels. Whiskeytown Fire Management Module’s consistently strong reputation throughout the wildland community is a testament to Patrick’s commitment to developing wildland fire leaders. 

Quotes from the Nomination:
  • "As a direct result of Patrick's mentoring and leadership, the Whiskeytown Fire Management Module has the best collection of qualifications and skills of any crew I have worked with."
  • "Patrick has developed a working environment that facilitates the growth of fireline leaders.  Much is expected of each crew member and individuals are given significant decision space."
  • "Patrick is masterful at monitoring the crews well being and abilities throughout the season."
  • "Patrick has led this crew by an example of hard work and focus.  He is extremely proficient at his job, being an ongoing student of fire and a committed leader."
  • "Patrick’s work ethic assures he is always an active participant in each assignment, working directly with the crew on all tasks.  His leadership is grounded in an deep understanding of fire behavior, fireline strategies and tactics.  The crew and other overhead have tremendous trust in Patrick, based on a history of quality and timely decisions." 
  • "Patrick has been an example to many throughout his career.  His calm and collected demeanor is inspirational to others."  
  • "Patrick has had a clear vision of what an ideal Fire Use Module could become.  His dedication and hard work have resulted in a remarkably diverse and competent unit."

Other Projects and Accomplishments:

  • IRPG Review Group
  • Storm King Mountain Staff Ride, Group Leader
  • Interagency Wildland Fire Module Field Guide, Committee Chair
  • NPS Chainsaw Policy Working Group
  • National Staff Ride Workshop, Presenter

Friday, May 4, 2012

"By Endurance We Conquer" - Sir Ernest Shackleton (Part 5)

"Shackleton's greatest characteristic was the ability to compel loyalty even against his men's better judgment." ~ Roland Huntford, polar historian
Ocean Camp
Source: Cool Antarctic

Part 5 of "Endurance--Shackleton & the Antarctic," presents Shackleton with his biggest challenge: keeping crew morale high. Shackleton becomes ill and resigns himself to his tent. When he emerges, he gives his men purpose: to reach land. McNish becomes insubordinate and Shackleton's decision-making comes into question.

Click here to preview Endurance--Shackleton & the Antarctic Part 5 of 11

Push to land
Source: James Caird Society

Thoughts to Ponder
  • How do you deal with subordinates who challenge authority?
  • Was Shackleton's optimism a strength or weakness?
  • "No leader on the edge of survival can tolerate the least threat to his authority." (Roland Huntford, polar historian)  Harry McNish becomes insubordinate and a threat to crew cohesion following Shackleton's decision to renew the march to land and rejection of McNish's proposal to build a sloop with the ship's wreckage. Lionel Greenstreet openly questions Shackleton's judgment. How do you handle subordinates who question your judgment?
Additional Information

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Engaging the Sparks

On February 6, 2012, we put out a challenge to our Facebook followers to increase our likes to 500 prior to the Leadership Subcommittee meeting on April 26. This challenge was the beginning of an effort we call IGNITE the Spark for Leadership intended to bring an awakening of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP) and ignite the passion for leadership development within our students of fire. We are happy to report that the initial goal of 500 likes was reached prior to the meeting and another 31 (maybe more when this posts) have joined since.

The IGNITE campaign is much more than a push for Facebook fans. Social media is a way that we can connect and network across all levels within our community. It is a way to build movements and share information. IGNITE is about Y-O-U. The WFLDP is and always has been a grassroots effort. As we have grown and expanded, we may have lost some of the luster that we had when we first rolled out the program. It doesn't have to be that way. With Y-O-U, all things are possible.

Recently, we launched Phase II of the campaign: Engaging the Sparks. Sparks are those of you in the field who want to be part of the awakening of the WFLDP. Here are a few projects that we will embark upon in the coming months: 1) brainstorming ways to redesign and infuse the Professional Reading Program, 2) an FY13 launch of a wildland fire leadership campaign titled "Leading with Courage" with an emphasis on Sir Ernest Shackleton's leadership, and 3) increasing our Facebook likes to 1,000 fans by the beginning of FY13. You, the participants of the program will have a say in where we go and how we will do it. You are and will continue to be the hands and feet of the movement and revitalization of the WFLDP.

Being in the political climate we are in and changing environment where wildland fire seems to thrive reminds me of Sir Ernest Shackleton setting sail with the crew of the Endurance on a great adventure (see our Leaving a Leadership Legacy series on the WFLDP blog). The journey may be hazardous with a few unwinnable situations; there may be long months of complete darkness, little communication from the outside world, and great change and challenge; but, there will great opportunities and success if together we can weather the storm.

Shackleton's advertisement (something like the image above) ignited the passion in over 5,000 men. We would be overjoyed if we could IGNITE the same passion in every firefighter and support person in the wildland fire service, whatever gender, position, etc., the Spark may be.

If you are ready to be a part of something big, like our Facebook page, contact your agency representative, and above all, spread the word about IGNITE like wildfire!