Friday, February 7, 2014

Building Leaders - From the Field for the Field

Leadership in the Making
(Photo credit:
by Ben Eby

One thing I do to promote leadership and initiative in my employees starts with their performance appraisals. I add several performance measures that require them to be in a leadership role of one form or another. I will put them either in the performance measures to meet “Fully Successful” or the performance measures to exceed “Fully Successful” or both. I develop the performance measures based on the individual’s position description (PD) as well as their leadership skill/comfort level. The measures don’t have to be overly complex or high levels of leadership. Start off small and as they build their comfort level, and then ramp it up season after season. Since the performance appraisals are living documents, you can always add measures or accomplishments during a mid-year review. This is helpful if you set the bar a little low or a little too high for a new, unknown employee. I have provided some examples to get you started.

Examples of measures I use for a GS-6 Engine Operator:
  • Prepare and lead at least four crew training sessions, scenarios, and/or drills. Training must be fire related and not daily project training.
  • Lead at least five physical training sessions
  • Lead or assist with at least one zone training day.
  • Serve as project leader for at least one multi-day project, from beginning to completion (or end of your season). 
  • Perform as Incident Commander (IC) on at least one fire where unified command is utilized.
  • Develop and lead at least one crew cohesion activity for the district.
Examples of measure for temporary employees (Typically GS-03 and GS-04 fire PDs)
  • Provide input and proposed solutions to assist with the completion of a work assignment and/or make processes more efficient.
  • Lead crew training and/or drills with which you have knowledge or experience two or more times.
  • Lead at least two crew After Action Reviews on a wildfire or prescribed burn or other incident.
  • Lead at least one training session in use of engine and/or engine tactics.
  • Prepare and conduct at least five morning briefings. 
  • Coordinate one training day with an engine or another resource on the fire zone or the helicopter crew.
So, the options are pretty wide open as to what you can use to “coax” your folks into a leadership role. The nice thing with using the performance appraisal, especially for returning temporary and permanent employees, is it gives you are record of their leadership accomplishments as well as gives you a way to reward them when they go above and beyond.

A special thank you to Ben Eby, Engine Captain - Huron Manistee NF/USFS and NWCG Leadership Subcommittee advisor, for this submission. The expressions are those of the author.

Every Friday, we showcase a leadership development activity "from the field for the field." What are you doing to develop your leaders that other leaders can adapt for their programs. Send your ideas to

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