Friday, June 29, 2012

On a Walk with Colin Powell

"Solving problems is what leaders do. The day you are not solving problems or are not up to our butt in problems is probalby the day you are no longer leading." ~ Colin Powell
(Source: John Hess's website)
Throughout "It Worked for Me," Colin Powell stresses the need for leaders to get out of their offices and interact with their followers. Powell is known to do walkabouts to get to know his followers and hear their concerns. You could find Powell anywhere, including the parking garage and boiler room. He believes that "all followers need to feel they belong to a team, a tribe, a band."

The relationship between the leader and his/her followers should be one of mutual trust. Powell states, " If you want to respect your followers, you have to know them."
  • Do you know your followers?
  • Do you respect them?
  • Do they respect you?
In Chapter 13, Powell advises leaders to never walk past a mistake. He  states, "Leaders who do not have the guts to immediately correct minor errors or shortcomings cannot be counted on to have the guts to deal with the big things." He shares these points:
  1. Correcting a mistake shows attention to detail and reinforces stands within an organization.
  2. It teaches aspiring leaders to have the moral courage to speak out when standards are not being met.
  3. It shows the followers that you care about them, the unit, and its mission.
  4. You set the example for all of you subordinate leaers to act in the same manner.
  5. It keeps mistakes and screw-ups from moving to another level or, even worse, propagating.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Texas Forest Service Receives the Pulaski Award

(From left are Associate Director Mark Stanford, Planning and Preparedness Department Head Cynthia Foster, Incident Response Department Head Paul Hannemann, Chief Law Enforcement Officer Les Rogers and Mitigation and Prevention Department Head Bruce Woods)

June 21, 2012 – COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas Forest Service was presented last week with the Pulaski Award, a national honor for outstanding service in wildland firefighting.
The award, commending the agency for its response during the 2011 wildfire season, is presented annually by the National Interagency Fire Center. It was announced at the Southern Group of State Foresters annual conference in Louisville, Ky.

The coveted 30-inch bronze statue is named after U.S. Forest Service Ranger Ed Pulaski, who led a crew to safety during the Great Fire of 1910. First presented in 1998, this is the first time the Pulaski Award has come to Texas. It will stay with Texas Forest Service for one year then will be shipped to the next recipient.
Texas Forest Service Associate Director Mark Stanford said the recognition is an honor for the emergency responders who bravely served Texas during last year’s unprecedented wildfire season. More than 30,000 wildfires burned almost 4 million acres, destroying 2,946 homes across the state.   

The wildfires were suppressed with assistance from more than 16,000 emergency responders from all 50 states, along with 239 dozers, 954 engines and 246 aircraft. 

“We accept this award on behalf of all the local, state and interagency firefighters who participated in the 2011 wildfire season,” Stanford said. “They’re the ones who really earned this award.”

Gary Bowers, chairman of the National Interagency Fire Center Governing Board, wrote in a letter to Texas Forest Service that the agency demonstrated “exceptional work in interagency cooperation and coordination, safety of their firefighters and the public, the development of partnerships and group performance in fire management and suppression.” 

“It is our hope that collaboration efforts such as this will increasingly inspire and inform new cooperative efforts across the country,” Bowers wrote. “Congratulations on this award and the excellent work that it recognizes.”  

April Saginor, Communications Specialist

(Reprinted with permission from Texas Forest Service - The Texas A&M University System)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Leadership Survey Participants Needed

Alexis Lewis is a doctoral student. The following survey is not funded by the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee; however, the LSC is aware of and endorses her research.

A few years ago, the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee (LSC) entertained a presentation by Alexis Lewis, doctoral candidate studying leadership qualities. Alexis is in need of data and has a short window for collection--prior to July 6. Past or current firefighters are asked to volunteer to complete a short survey.

The results of Alexis's study will be provided to the LSC in support of leadership development nationally.

Survey synopsis with the link:

We created this two-part leadership survey to see if there is a way to measure leadership in wildland fire based on some of the qualities that were described to us in previous studies by firefighters as being important. So we're hoping to get this out and see if we are on the right track with our measurements, or if we will need to get rid of certain items on the survey (as it is a little long right now, and redundant). The first part asks fire personnel to rate their "ideal" leader and the second asks them to then rate a memorable supervisor on the same qualities as the ideal. The remaining questions concern work enjoyment under the leader they have thought of, and a few demographics. We invite any past or current firefighter to fill out the survey, as the most important aspect is having people who understand fire and have an opinion of what good leadership looks like in fire.

Answers taken through the following link will be completely anonymous. Here's the link:

John Wooden's Leadership Example

(Source: Wikipedia)
Every once in a while I like to showcase one of the coaching professions greatest leaders, Coach John Wooden. Here are a few thoughts and poems he shared in the TED presentation "John Wooden on True Success."

No written word, no spoken plea.
Can teach our youth what they should be.
Nor all the books on all the shelves.
It’s what the teachers are themselves.
(Author Unknown)

Wooden's Definition of Success:

"Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable."

Reputation versus Character:
  • Reputation: What you are perceived to be.
  • Character: What you really are.
  • Character is more important than reputation!
Wooden Family Rules to Live By:
  • Never try to be better than someone else.
  • Always learn from others.
  • Never cease trying to be the best you can be that is under your control.
  • If you get too engrossed, involved, and concerned with things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect the things with which you have control.Never be late.
  • Don't use profanity.
  • Never criticize a teammate.
  • Don't whine.
  • Don't complain.
  • Don't make excuses.
The Road Ahead or the Road Behind (George J. Moriarty)

Sometimes I think the fates must grin as we denounce them and insist,
The only reason we can’t win is the fates themselves have missed.
Yet, there lives on the ancient claim – we win or lose within ourselves,
The shining trophies on our shelves can never win tomorrow’s game.
So you and I know deeper down there is a chance to win the crown,
But when we fail to give our best, we simply haven’t met the test
Of giving all and saving none until the game is really won.
Of showing what is meant by grit, of fighting on when others quit,
Of playing through not letting up, it’s bearing down that wins the cup.
Of taking it and taking more until we gain the winning score,
Of dreaming there’s a goal ahead, of hoping when our dreams are dead,
Of praying when our hopes have fled. Yet, losing, not afraid to fall,
If bravely we have given all, for who can ask more of a man
than giving all within his span, it seems to me, is not so far from – Victory.
And so the fates are seldom wrong, no matter how they twist and wind,
It’s you and I who make our fates, we open up or close the gates,
On the Road Ahead or the Road Behind.

Previous Blog Spotlights:

Be sure to check out our previous blog entries regarding "Coach."

Friday, June 22, 2012

"It's All About People" - Colin Powell (Part 1)

(Photo credit: Moni's Academy)

Fans of the WFLDP will undoubtedly know our next leader in the Leaving a Leadership Legacy series. General Colin Powell's A Leadership Primer has been a part of the WFLDP's About Leadership tool for many years.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Follow the Leader or Not

Reflection 1 – Wag Dodge’s Escape Fire during the Mann Gulch Fire:
You are the incident commander on a wildfire located to the east side of the Continental Divide in western Montana on August 5, 1949. You and 15 smokejumpers attack the fire. During the course of suppression, the wind picks up and causes the fire to cross a gulch and cut off your access to the Missouri River and a safe anchor point. You and the crew attempt a retreat up Mann Gulch; however, your route to the ridge top is hampered by rockslides, outcroppings, and steep terrain. The fire is burning above and below you and the crew. You order the crew to break their training and drop their gear—some do not hear or abide your command. You decide to do an unconventional tactic and light an “escape” fire and appeal to your men to follow you through the flames to the blackened area. Your men refuse to follow and retreat on at their own will. Thirteen men perish as a result of a burnover; two follow your fire’s edge to the ridge top and escape the flames.
Reflection 2 – General Robert E. Lee’s Decision for Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg:
You are the general in command of Confederate troops near Gettysburg, PA, on July 3, 1863. You and your men have been engaged in combat for months, and are hungry, injured, and fighting friends and kinfolk. After days of fighting, Union troops have secured the high ground. You order 12,000 troops to open attack on the high ground contrary to military strategy and with great opposition from General Longstreet whose men have engaged in many battles, traveled a great distance and are tired. Longstreet does not believe in engaging the Union troops on the high ground, instead battling south towards making a direct attack on Washington, D.C.  You believe you have more troops than the Union and can outlast them. Your artillery opens fire and the battle ensues, including an assault by Longstreet’s men. Nearly 7,500 Confederate and 1,500 Union troops lose their life in the campaign where you eventually retreat. You are heard to say, “It’s all my fault, boys. It’s all my fault.”
Things to Ponder:
  • Wag Dodge, a veteran fire leader, makes a decision to try an unproven tactic. His men question his model and fail to follow. He survives while most of his crew perishes. The model is adopted as standard operating procedure in wildland firefighting.
  • General Robert E. Lee, a battle-wise leader, fails to question his model. He survives, while Confederate forces take significant losses. The decision is deemed a mistake and forever analyzed by historians and future leaders.
  • Why did Lee’s men follow him?
  • Did either Lee’s or Dodge’s men understand their leader’s intentions?
  • How does fatigue, stress, and physical well-being affect decision making?


Monday, June 18, 2012

Fireline Leadership Reading Room Launched

The Sparks for PRP Change group has been busy brainstorming ways to revitalize the WFLDP Professional Reading Program.

As a first step the group has established a public neighborhood within called the "Fireline Leadership Reading Room." Students of fire are encouraged to use this forum to discuss books their local unit is reading and/or wants to share with other members of the fire service. Join today!

PRP Leadership Challenge:

The WFLDP has issued a reading challenge for Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" which chronicles Abraham Lincoln's leadership, including his decision to bring his rivals into his cabinet. The intent is to read and discuss the book throughout the summer and fall. As a capstone to the discussion, readers will be encouraged venture into the Leadership in Cinema realm and watch and discuss Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" scheduled for release in December 2012. This is a length read, but a must-read for leaders.

"Team of Rivals" Reading Schedule
  • July discussion (posted now) -  Chapters 1-5 (pages 1-169)
  • August discussion - Chapters 6 -11 (pages 170-319)
  • September discussion - Chapters 12-15 (pages 321-423)
  • October discussion - Chapters 16-19 (pages 425-521)
  • November discussion - Chapters 20-22 (pages 522-596)
  • December discussion - Chapters 23-26 (pages 597-749)
  • January 2013 discussion - comparing the movie "Lincoln" to "Team of Rivals"

If you have questions regarding the Professional Reading Program, send an e-mail to

Friday, June 15, 2012

"By Endurance We Conquer" - Sir Ernest Shackleton (Part 11)

"By Endurance We Conquer" ~ Sir Ernest Shackleton
(Shackleton burial party,
In the final video of our series, the rescued crew has assimilated back into society. In 1921, Shackleton and few members of the Endurance crew embark of a journey South. However, Shackleton dies at the age of 47 of a heart attack before reaching South Georgia. The crew continues the odyssey revisits Elephant Island.

Thoughts to Ponder
  • How important is it to revisit the sites of our struggles (darkest hours)?
  • Have you participated in a staff ride? If you have, what did you gain from the experience?
  • How can staff rides heal those involved in an incident and how can they contribute to the growth of the organization?
Additional Information

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Leadership is a Gift

Leadership is a gift. It's given by those who follow. You have to be worthy of it." ~General Mark Welsh
A few weeks ago, Assistant Fire Chief Brian Fennessy for San Diego Fire-Rescue (and local/rural representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee) recommended that I watch a video of General Mark Welsh, Commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, speaking to a group of cadets at the Air Force Academy.

I was moved by General Welsh’s public speaking ability. His message, and how he gave it, was not what I expected to hear from a man in his rank and position. He was captivating, funny, compassionate, moving, and humble—everything you want from a leader. He showed a side of himself that commanded respect and praise.

The video is approximately 50 minutes long, but I encourage you to take the time to watch it in its entirety and experience leadership in action. You will come away with a clear sense of commander’s intent and an example of what right looks like.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Look, Breath, and Play Together

"Fire leaders build cohesive teams--not simply groups of individuals putting fort individual efforts--to accomplish missions in high-risk environments." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 52)
I have seen many analogies regarding the leadership lessons of the orchestra conductor, but the following Tedx (independently organized event) presentation by Eugene Lee does a great job.
Highlights from the Video:
  • Although conductors can direct every note, control tempo and volume, their real jobs are to create an interpretation of the music—a story, something that will create an emotional impact on the audience—and then lead the orchestra on a journey for executing that vision.
  • Once the conductor has the vision, he/she has to communicate it to their team. Stories and images and analogies help the team grasp that vision even more.
  • Conductors have the power to tell every player exactly how he wants them to play every note, but communicating the vision is so much more powerful. 
  • Conductors work with the leader in the orchestra, the concert master; he's enlisting the leader to sell the vision to the team.
  • During the performance, the conduct is providing real-time feedback to the orchestra on how well their sound matches the ideal in his head. He's encouraging, reminding, coaxing, and sometimes, gently correcting. 
  • Conductors lead in advance or in anticipation.
  • Conductors use cues to create connectedness and team cohesion.
What You Can Do:
  • Create a vision.
  • Sell your vision; don’t just tell your team.
  • Give performance feedback as it is happening.
  • Invoke the power of the cue.
  • Coach to the concept not the technique.
  • Help your team breath (flow) together.
  • Thank and acknowledge your team before you take a bow.



Friday, June 8, 2012

"By Endurance We Conquer" - Sir Ernest Shackleton (Part 10)

"We've got to take a risk. Are you game?" ~ Sir Ernest Shackleton
(Chilean steamer Yelcho used to rescue the men from Elephant Island, Cool Antarctic website)
With the James Caird and crew safely on land, Shackleton attempts to rescue his crew from Elephant Island. Ice once again threatens to stand between the crew on Elephant Island and home.

Once rescued, the crew must assimilate back into society--a mad world at war.

Thoughts to Ponder
  • The Elephant Island crew all but gives up on Shackleton and the hope for rescue. What keeps a person going forward in the face of adversity?
  • How does a crew assimilate back into "normalcy" after such a horrific event?
  • How does perspective play into the transition back into society?
  • Was Shackleton right in withholding the Polar Medal from Holness, Vincent, McNish, and Stephenson?
Additional Information

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award

Do you know someone who has demonstrated superior wildland fire leadership and deserves recognition? If so, nominate him/her/them today!

This award is not about a lifetime of leadership, although those are worthy of recognition too. The NWCG Leadership Subcommittee wants to recognize those individuals or groups that go above and beyond with leadership. Nominations are low at this point. We need you to recognize those who have helped form our organization.

Visit the WFLDP website for more information.

Monday, June 4, 2012

"The Merits of Risk"

"Trust, but verify." ~ President Ronald Reagan
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), a provider for our L-380 course, released its videos from their 2012 Faculty Summit. "The Merits of Risk" by keynote speaker Christopher Barnes is highly applicable and transferable to wildland firefighting training.

Paraphrased Highlights from "The Merits of Risk"
  • We need to teach more than the soft skills.
  • We need to provide the experiences that indoctrinate our students with the will and tenacity to overcome.
  • We are part of the solution. Now more than ever, the world needs what we have to offer.
  • Industry challenges:
    1. Typically, when we manage risk, we strive to use prevention as a primary methodology. Risk is pointless without benefit. Prevention isn't enough.
    2. We often advocate for risk as a reactive response. 
  • Safety doesn't have a place where we are actively seeking risk.
  • Success without a legitimate threat of failure is illegitimate.
  • Set students up to succeed and fail in equal numbers.
  • Failure needs to be a clear and present danger.
  • Managing perception is a burden to bear.
  • "Advocating for prudent risk taking goes hand in hand with managing risk. Simply managing risk alone is of no value without considering what risks to take and why."
  • Real challenge leads to real experience and real experience leads to real learning.
  • Fear of failure inspires learning.
  • Improper allegiance to safety imperils learning.
  • "You don't get to competency by avoiding incompetency. You go through incompetency to get to competency."
  • Learning to manage risk is a life skill.
  • "We need risk because it's married to experience, and experience is the source from which all deep learnings spring."
Thoughts to Ponder
  • Have our safety policies, procedures, and equipment created a "safer" work environment? Do we rely too much on these items to keep us "safe"?
  • Are we a fire service focused on prevention or risk management?
  • Are there things that we should guarantee as safe?

Friday, June 1, 2012

"By Endurance We Conquer" - Sir Ernest Shackleton (Part 9)

"We've got to take a risk. Are you game?" ~ Sir Ernest Shackleton
(Panorama view of South Georgia Island, Frank Hurley photo from Shackleton's book South, The Encyclopedia of Earth website)

Part 9 of our series sees Shackleton and the James Caird crew encounter more challenges before reaching the Fortuna Bay whaling station on South Georgia Island.

Thoughts to Ponder
  • What type of cohesion binds your team? How far would you go for your fellow firefighter?
  • Wag Dodge, Incident Commander on the Mann Gulch, attempted to get his crew to follow him into his escape fire to no avail. Why did Shackleton's crew follow him?
  • Shackleton musters the ability to organize the search party. What causes a leader to dig so deep for the life of a crew member? Have you encountered a leader who gave their all for the crew?
Additional Information