Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Courage to Ask

I found the following quote by Deborah Mills-Scofield in the HBR Blog Network post "The Power of Your Network is the "Ask."
"When we don't use the 'Power of the Ask' we are in essence saying 'no' before the question has even been asked — saying no to opportunities that change our businesses, our organizations, ourselves...and actual lives. So even if it feels uncomfortable, look for even just a small way can you use the 'Power of the Ask' in your network — for someone you work for, with or manage." ~ Deborah Mills-Schofield

IGNITE the Spark for Leadership today!

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Transform Yourself...Transform Your People"

(Photo credit: Baptist Convention of New England)
You cannot give what you do not have. ~ John Maxwell
According to John Maxwell, reknowned leadership expert, transformational leadership "influences people to think, speak, and act in such a way that it makes a positive difference int their life and in the lives of others."

Recenty, John Maxwell offered an interactive training session on transformational leadership via a live call. If you are like me and missed the call, have no fear. John offers the recording of the call on his Join John Live! website. He supplements the call with worksheets.

John walks you through his four steps of transformation:
  1. Transformation begins with a calling - "I Want to Make a Difference"
  2. Transformation stands on a cause - "Doing Something That Makes a Difference"
  3. Transformation spreads from me to we - "With People Who Make a Difference"
  4. Transformation breathes with urgency - "At a Time When It Makes a Difference"
Transformation begins with you. Take a moment to invest in and develop self.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Leading Resilience

Today’s leaders are more commonly expressing a sense of futility as they find themselves in what are often identified as unsolvable leadership situations. Such circumstances can be some of the most frustrating and energy draining on leaders since solutions are not easily identified and often beyond our control. As leaders, we take pride in our abilities to solve problems, bring order to chaos, and reduce the negative impacts to those we lead. Given the current global and national crises, pick your favorite affecting our world(s), the potential for leaders to retreat into managing rather than leading increases if solutions evade us.

It is human nature to frame the outcome of challenges, leadership or otherwise into win or lose categories but we must recognize not all battles can be won and reframe the problem. Unwinnable leadership moments are the true tests of leaders. The options, and more appropriately, the actions chosen during no-win leadership situations directly affect the severity of the outcome: bad, worse, or catastrophic. We must acknowledge the “bad” as the best outcome possible in certain circumstances.

Consider the following as you manage through the unwinnable leadership moment:

1.  Acknowledge others have been here before.
  • This is not the first time budgets have gone through significant declines.
2.  Leaders are not expected to be the current-day Atlas.
  • Do not take on the weight of the globe on your shoulders and accept the responsibility for all the bad in the world.
3.  Don’t waste time trying to solve problems beyond your control.
  • Focus on actions within your sphere of influence and provide stability and leadership to those within it.
4. Project a vision beyond the “bad” of today.
  • A positive vision from an enthusiastic leader is contagious; fatalistic or apathetic attitudes spread like viruses.
 5. Break the chains of old paradigms.
  • Albert Einstein observed, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
  • Radical problems are not solved with conservative solutions. Seek solutions beyond historical boundaries.
The leaders of tomorrow, the leaders capable of redefining the problem and leading through no-win circumstances, are the keystone of resilient organizations in the future.

Thanks to Chris Wilcox, National Fire Operations Program Leader, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee Chairman, for this blog submission.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Gleason: Mentoring Beyond the Fireline

A little over ten years ago, the wildland fire community lost one of its greatest leaders: Paul Gleason. Cancer may have taken his earthly body, but his memory and legacy lives on forever in our hearts.

Paul's leadership influence was not confined to wildfire as we read in John Long's "The Real Deal: The Tao of Paul Gleason, Stonemaster Emeritus."

Gleason: Stonemaster Emeritus
(Art work credit: Jeremy Collins)
Great fire leaders lead beyond the fireline.

Of Special Interest:
Thanks to Travis Dotson, Lessons Learned Center, and NWCG Leadership Committee member, for this blog suggestion.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Difference Between Good and GREAT Leadership

(Photo credit: Coach Kyle - Action Coach)
Jon Gordon

Challenging times require leaders who can lead others through the challenges. Now more than ever we need great leadership in our government, schools, businesses, hospitals and organizations. Good leadership won’t suffice. We need great leadership. There is a difference.
  • Good leaders get people to believe in them.
  • Great leaders inspire people to believe in themselves.

  • Good leaders say “Watch what I can do.”
  • Great leaders say “Let me show you what you can do.”

  • Good leaders catch fish for others so they can eat today.
  • Great leaders teach people how to fish so they can eat for a lifetime.
Having worked with countless leaders over the years in businesses, schools and professional sports I’ve realized that great leadership is really a transfer of belief. Great leaders share their belief, vision, purpose and passion with others and in the process they inspire others to believe, act and impact. Great leaders are positively contagious and they instill confidence and belief in others.

Great sales managers inspire their sales people to believe in themselves and their product/service. Great school principals inspire their teachers to believe they can make a difference. Great teachers inspire and empower their students to believe in themselves. Great pastors inspire their congregations to serve and impact the community. Great sports coaches inspire their teams to believe they can win. And the people who have changed the world have been those who instilled in others the confidence to step up, serve, take initiative and create positive change. You don’t need a title to be a leader. You just need to lead.

To lead others in a powerful way you must invite them on your bus, share your vision for the road ahead and then encourage, empower and inspire them to drive their own bus. In the process, instead of having just one bus that you drive, you create a fleet of buses and bus drivers, all moving in the same positive direction. When you create a fleet of buses and empower people to drive their own bus, you generate an amazing amount of power and momentum that becomes an unstoppable force. This is what great leadership is all about.

What does great leadership mean to you? Share your thoughts on my blog or Facebook Page.

For more leadership tools from Jon Gordon visit


Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t
by Jim Collins

Making the transition from good to great doesn't require a high-profile CEO, the latest technology, innovative change management, or even a fine-tuned business strategy. At the heart of those rare and truly great companies was a corporate culture that rigorously found and promoted disciplined people to think and act in a disciplined manner. Peppered with dozens of stories and examples from the great and not so great, the book offers a well-reasoned road map to excellence that any organization would do well to consider.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why Does Leadership Matter?

by Mike DeGrosky

This is an expanded version of a column first appearing as Thoughts on Leadership in the March/April 2012 issue of Wildfire magazine, the official publication of the International Association of Wildland Fire, published by Penton Media.

Since the dawn of recorded human history, people have shown a tremendous curiosity and  reoccupation with what I consider the big leadership question. Why do people follow other people? For students of leadership, that question leads to others, like: what is the fundamental nature and purpose of leadership? In other words, what is leadership and how does it work? People have always wanted to know how some people get other people to follow their lead and why people choose to allow themselves to be influenced.

I recently engaged my graduate students in a discussion in which I asked them three questions. Why leadership? What is important about leadership? Why does leadership matter? The ensuing discussion proved both interesting and illuminating and people presented a wide range of perspectives. As one might expect, their answers depended on their personal leadership experience. As we kicked ideas around, I started thinking about my own outlook on these questions.

Why Leadership?

We know, with the help of Egyptian hieroglyphs, people have maintained a conscious concept of leadership for at least 3,000 years. We need to remember that we did not invent leadership. Leadership is a deeply seated human drive and human need; a part of the human condition. However, we must also remember, besides being a fundamental human need, leadership also represents a modern social construct. We call it "leadership" only because we decided to call it that. We have been observing interaction between people that bring about influence and change for millennia. We needed something to call it and so, "leadership" it was.

As a social construct, the concept of leadership must keep up with societal changes over time. As our society changes (in big ways, I am not talking about fads and popular culture), our understanding of leadership must change along with society, or it becomes irrelevant. For example, in the late 15th Century, people regarded Niccolo Machiavelli as the innovative leadership guru of his time, a Renaissance man who actually lived during the Renaissance. Today, calling a leader “Machiavellian” is an insult, typically reserved for people who use power inappropriately.

What Is Important about Leadership?

For me, the answer to this question rests on growing evidence that leadership appears to represent a deep-seated human need. Leadership scholars are beginning to suggest that leadership is, at least in part, a biological response to our environment, an instinct if you will. Not surprisingly, some leading thinkers believe that leadership has had human evolutionary implications. In other words, as a species, we are who we are and where we are, in-part, because of leadership relationships between people.

However, despite exploring leadership academically for more than 100 years, we still have no universal definition of leadership or unified leadership theory. That is a problem. We cannot really understand a thing and how it works if we cannot define the thing we are studying. If skunks are your thing, and we define a skunk as a small, black-and-white animal with long fluffy tail, we can find ourselves examining a cat, while trying to understand a skunk. That is part of why the leadership literature can prove so confusing and unhelpful to practitioners. Over the years, we described all sorts of human behavior as leadership and leadership as all kinds of human behavior.

That is why I encourage all students of leadership to adopt a working definition of leadership. Finding your working definition can prove a journey in itself. Dive into the leadership literature, and you will find a variety of definitions, many of which remain anchored to old-school leadership thinking from the 1970s and 1980s.

Frequent readers know that I like a definition devised by Joseph Rost, author and Professor Emeritus in the Leadership Studies program at San Diego State University. I direct people to Rost’s definition because his book (Leadership for the 21st Century) derived from a tremendous piece of scholarship and because Rost’s definition has proven very influential, serving as the foundation of several university-based leadership studies programs. Rost defines leadership as "an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes."

I think we can best learn about leadership theory by thinking critically about concepts and breaking them down to do so. For example, we can break Rost's definition into four basic components.
  1. The essence of leadership lies in influence, the ability to affect another person’s attitudes, beliefs, values, or behavior.
  2. Leadership is a relationship, something that happens between people.
  3. The purpose of leadership is to create and promote change, and that people involved in leadership are not just the subject of change, but also the driving force behind it.
  4. In the leadership environment, at our best, we pursue what all parties want. At least, our pursuits should be in the interest of all parties, not just change desired by leader or the organization without regard for constituents.
From this perspective, followers play an active role in the leadership process. Leadership is a process in which leaders and followers engage together and, judging from trends over the last 30 years, leadership will become increasingly dispersed, collaborative, situational and provisional.

Why Do I Think Leadership Matters?

I think leadership matters because, as I mentioned earlier, leadership represents a natural human drive and human need. In short, we cannot avoid the human yearning to:
  • Gain some sense of self-mastery and self-efficacy, to contribute, to have an impact
  • To feel oriented, reassured and anchored; particularly in times of stress, fear and turbulence
  • Cope with and adapt to an increasingly complex, inter-connected, and demanding world
  • Serve the common good
In the organizational context, leadership matters because it helps direct and mobilize people and their id. Leadership is a process by which we create movement and constructive, adaptive change; establish direction, align people, and motivate as well as inspire one another.


Biography 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.

Reprinted from the Guidance Group, Inc. website with permission from Mike DeGrosky.

Friday, March 8, 2013

March is National Reading Month

Did you know that March is National Reading Month?

The first principle under the Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles is "Be proficient in your job, both technically and as a leader." When the founders of the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program established the values and principles, this principle was intentionally placed as within the value of  "Duty." We have a duty to those we lead to be the best we can be.

Our founders also placed the Professional Reading Program under the "Duty" section of the Leadership Toolbox. We believe that leaders are readers and that reading programs "add depth and breadth to a fire leader's development at any stage of their career and is an important component of any leader development process."

Therefore, as part of the 2013 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign, we encourage you to make a commitment, as an individual or as a group, to read at least two books over the course of the year--yes, even between L-courses and between seasons--from the Wildland Fire Book on Books and post a "Leaders are Readers" book review in the Fireline Leadership Reading Room for other students of leadership to use.

Think "outside the box" and read with your family, join a reading group outside work, etc. Whatever you chose, read.

IGNITE the Spark for Leadership and READ!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Are You a Hunter or Fisherman?

(Photo credit:
A few years ago, I read The Art of Influence by Chris Widener. The light-hearted story involving a high school graduate, Marcus Drake, being mentored by one of the most successful men alive, Bobby Gold. Bobby shares how he used the art of influence to succeed and persuade and how the journey begins from within.

Leadership principles are woven throughout the fabric of the story as well as moments for readers to ponder their own journey.

Character and Skills, Virtue and Talent

One of the first lessons Bobby shares compares a leader's character with his/her skills--or virtue versus talent. Follow the lesson and activities as if you are Marcus...

  1. Write down ten things you look for in a leader.
  2. Categorize each item you identified as either a character or a skill.
  3. Count the number of character traits versus skills.
  4. Analyze your responses with the "norm" which is generally 70 to 80% character traits versus skills.
Both character and skill matter. Bobby's view is that "...nobody wants to follow someone who's all character and no skill." He goes on to say, "You can lead for a while with great skills, but if you don't have character, eventually people will turn their backs on you and cease to do business with you."

Hunting or Fishing

I'll mix a recent personal story with Bobby's next lesson.

My husband said I needed (or is it deserved) a new car. I wasn't so sure. I loved my 10-year-old car and was quite comfortable. Needless to say, we ventured forth and drove to the land of the vultures, also known as auto row. As soon as I drove onto the first lot, the vultures, I mean salesmen, swooped down upon me like fresh prey. Each one wanting to be the first to persuade me their car or service was the most desirable. If there is one thing this girl despises, it is feeling like prey or being hunted.

Bobby used the analogy of hunting and fishing to teach Marcus another story. Bobby said, "persuasion is like hunting while influence is like fishing." If you want to sell me a car, influence goes a long way. I need control (or at least the illusion of such) when making my decision. Pressure (or persuade) me too much, and I run. Give me space, and I will either buy the car or you'll have to be patient and practice the catch and release technique. I just might come back for another nibble. In this case, I bought the car.

According to Bobby, what did my salesman do right?
  • He had fish--a lot of them.
  • He had a place where the fish were biting (technically, they were the only dealer in town, but I could have opted for a different make).
  • He used the right kind of bait.
  • He presented the bait well.

The Rest of the Story

Marcus and Bobby's story doesn't end with the hunting and fishing analogy. You will need to complete the journey by reading the book yourself and discovering how "persuading others begins with you."

I will provide a little bait, however. Bobby continues the lessons with the Golden Rules of Influence:
  1. Live a life of undivided integrity.
  2. Always demonstrate a positive attitude.
  3. Consider other people's interest as more important than your own.
  4. Don't settle for anything less than excellence.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Confusing Behavior with Performance

(Photo credit: Force Health Protection and Readiness)
"When we make judgments about the competence of human conduct, we often look at performance from the wrong vantage point. We often confuse behavior with performance.” ~Thomas F. Gilbert, father of human performance technology 
In Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, Gilbert writes of a story (pp.13-15) about how a bunch of undisciplined workers work side-by-side with well-trained, disciplined workers. The essence of the story is that the behavior of the undisciplined workers did not hamper their performance. The undisciplined workers actually outperformed the disciplined workers.

My intent is not to discredit highly-skilled, elite workers—they are often our most productive workers. However, I go back to Gilbert who says “Behavior is a necessary and integral part of performance, but we must not confuse the two. Unfortunately, we often do. To equate behavior and performance is like confusing a sale with the seller. Naturally, we cannot have one without the other.” Just because you are highly-trained and a member of an elite crew does not automatically equate to high performance.

Fire leaders have within their organizations disciplined and undisciplined workers. All too often, the behavior of the undisciplined worker is a supervisor’s main focus. What value do you place on performance? What cost do you place on behavior? Gilbert notes, “No sensible person tries to modify other people’s behavior just because it is there, or their performance just because it can be done. When we set about to engineer performance, we should view it in a context of value. We should not train someone to do something differently unless we place a value on the consequence—unless we see that consequence as a valuable accomplishment.” He goes on to state that what we really want to engineer is “worthy performance—in which the value of the accomplishment exceeds the cost of the behavior.”