Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Good - The Bad - The Ugly

Influence: You can make a difference
(Photo credit: Asymmetrical Communication)
Read the first paragraph of the "Preface" of Leading in the Wildland Fire Service below and ask yourself, "Does the term leadership infer a positive or negative picture in your mind?"
"Leadership is the art of influencing people in order to achieve a result. The most essential element for success in the wildland fire service is good leadership." ~ Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 1
If you do an image internet search for "famous leaders," you get pictures of everyone from Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela to Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. Each of these individuals influenced large numbers of people; however, their end results were very different and changed the course of history.

We tend to associate the term "leadership" with a positive presence, but influence can produce very destructive and negative environments. Success in the wildland fire service, however, is defined by "good leadership."

Knowing what to look for in a "good leader" is critical. Mike DeGrosky, Guidance Group, Inc., share some insight in "Choose Your Role Models Carefully." Mike doesn't talk so much about the "toxic leader" as he does about the best leader for "contemporary and cultural relevance."

Article Excerpts
  • Supervisory or leadership techniques, styles or practices are secondary to character. Employing techniques or embracing a style without an appropriate character foundation can represent the dividing point between influence and manipulation, or leadership and coercion.
  • Contrary to popular belief, I find that most supervisors, managers and other potential leaders are trying hard, wanting to do a good job and are doing the best they can. More often than not, when a person engages in ineffective leadership behaviors, I find them simply emulating the behaviors and habits of the people who influenced them. We all tend to believe we have developed some unique leadership style, all our own. However, the evidence suggests that our character as a leader, as well as our leadership style, is much more like an accumulation of our influences. 
  • When I find a promising person struggling with “the leadership thing,” I often also find their role models coming up short, even though they are usually quite admirable people. Again, not because the role models were not excellent folk, but more likely because the role model came from an earlier point in the would-be leader’s career. What worked well for that person, at that time, in that place, won’t address the contemporary leader’s challenges. 
  • We can learn from the experience of great leaders only to the extent that we can draw contemporary lessons from historic experience.
  • When people emulate less-than-relevant role models, this proves quite frustrating and stressful for both the would-be leader and those they attempt to lead. It also proves unhealthy for the organization.
DeGrosky's advice is to make sure that these role models, at very least:
  • Brought about needed change that reflected people’s mutual interests
  • Communicated about issues that connected them to their followers
  • Went beyond the typical boss-subordinate connection to develop relationships
  • Inspired accomplishment and commitment
  • Modeled leadership behavior
  • Grew leaders in their organization
  • Focused on important issues
  • Connected their group to the outside world
Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Each one of us has the power to influence. Determine what type of leader you want to be.

I challenge students of leadership and fire to read Chris Widener's The Art of Influence - Persuading Others Begins With You

Dr. 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.

Blog compliments of Pam McDonald, Writer/Editor BLM Fire Training and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. All expressions are those of the authors.

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