Friday, September 26, 2014

Being a Leader Isn't Easy

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.~ Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 63.
Captain William Swenson
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
During the battle at Ganjgal, Captain William Swenson and his team came under enemy fire. Swenson's heroic acts of courage and leadership were eventually recognized through the Medal of Honor. The honor, however, was shrouded in controversy: a rumored misplacement of the nomination packet and speaking out himself about his authorities. We often hear such dialogue in the aftermath of a tragedy. "Monday morning quarterbacks" emerge, fingers get pointed, and conspiracy theories grow like weeds. 

Unfortunately, we cannot embed the CBS Sunday Morning video "A Hero's Tale." (Click the hyperlink.)

The purpose of sharing the video is not to point blame but to showcase an example of moral courage. Not only did Captain Swenson call out authority, but took the morally high ground and made a tough decision to step down from his post and resign. He does the unspeakable and asks to return to active duty. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the point here is that Swenson had the courage to speak out--to lay his career on the line to do what he thought was right by calling out authority. Being a good leader isn't easy. Would you have the courage to lay it all on the line to do the right thing?

Building resilient teams requires that all followers--regardless of leadership level in the organization--feel comfortable in speaking up. A true leader is willing to lay it all on the line to choose the difficult right over the easy wrong. 

This story captures the essence of what we believe as stated in Leading in the Wildland Fire Service:
  • Leadership is a tough choice. Leaders choose to sacrifice their own needs for those of their teams and organizations. They routinely face situations and make decisions that others criticize and second-guess. Leaders take risks and face challenges every day. (p. 6)
  • The leadership challenge in the wildland fire service is to influence people to accomplish tasks and objectives under confusing, dangerous, and ambiguous conditions. Leaders balance the risks against the potential gains of any decision and action. Because of the inherent complexity of this world, many times they face morally difficult decisions--with high-stakes consequences--alone, unable to receive guidance from a chain of command. (p. 10)
  • Leaders' intent is a crucial element of effective operations because it reduces internal friction and empowers subordinates--even when chaotic conditions prevent the chain of command from communicating effectively. (p. 33)
  • 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. (p. 46)
  • 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. (p. 48)
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About the Author:
Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The link to the CBS video didn't work for me but a search found this link that did: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-heros-tale/

Pam McDonald said...

Thank you. We prepare some of the blogs in advance. This link has caused us issue on more than one occasion. We appreciate your keeping us current! Keep up the good work.

Jay Stalnacker said...

Awesome thanks for sharing.

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