Saturday, February 28, 2015

Humility: A Leadership Trait That Gets Results

Followership is Leadership: Are you up for the challenge?

Followership is Leadership: Are you up for the challenge?

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” - Ernest Hemingway

"Effective leaders project an image that is calm, organized and focused on success." (Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, p. 20) Every wildland firefighter should have a strong command presence. Strength often comes in the form of humility.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Road Isn't Easy

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Road Isn't Easy
If you have read the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, you know the journey to the Emerald City was less than perfect. From watching the movie, I had a vision of the yellow brick road as neatly paved and easy to travel. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In the book, the road was worn, covered with trees, and blocked by rivers, beasts and other barriers. Dorothy and her friends found difficulty traveling down its winding path. I have my own troubled path with the yellow brick road.

Yellow brick road from the "Return to Oz"
(Yellow brick road from the "Return to Oz"; photo credit Captive Wildwoman blog)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Food for Thought - Adversity

Adversity doesn't develop character, adversity reveals character. –Dr. Tony Bacon, The Art of Servant Leadership

Adversity doesn't develop character, adversity reveals character. – Dr. Tony Bacon, The Art of Servant Leadership

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Leadership is Not A Solo Act

In this video, Barry Posner, co-author of The Leadership Challenge" and "The Truth about Leadership," shares two truths of leadership:

1. You make a difference.

2. You cannot do it alone.

Leadership begins with a belief in self.

Figure out your personal values and principles.
  • Where are you willing to put your efforts? 
  • What are you willing to sacrifice for your values and principles?

Leadership is a relationship.

Your behavior must be consistent with your values and principles.

Leaders turn followers into leaders.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Food for Thought - Invest in People

The best minute you spend is the one you invest in people. – Ken Blanchard

The best minute you spend is the one you invest in people. – Ken Blanchard

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Toxic Leaders and the Social Environments that Breed Them"

Followership is Leadership: Are you up for the challenge?

Followership is Leadership: Are you up for the challenge?

Is your organization plagued by the "institutional cancer" of toxic leadership? Effective leaders are tough, not toxic. Consider a bottom-up evaluation procedure whereby subordinates evaluate their leaders.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

Friday, February 20, 2015

Student of the Game

So, is it better to be a "Jack of all trades, master of none" or a "Jack of all trades, master of one" (quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin)? 

I am one of those people who is good at a lot of things. Some might even say I am exceptional at some things. Maybe I am humble, but I do not consider myself a master at anything. For many years, I worked under the assumption that mastery was unnecessary. To be good at a lot of things showed talent and versatility. I was "well-rounded." Supervisors, co-workers, and peers seemed to like that about me.

Then I started seeing articles stressing the importance of mastery such as Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers and his10,000-Hour Rule where success is related to the number of hours you devote to a particular task/talent. There is no doubt that practice is vital to success. Being a student of the fire requires that we dig deep--that we go above and beyond the average in order to be prepared for whatever comes at us on the fireline.

There are pros and cons to either philosophy. What do you think?

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
  • Watch and discuss Devin Williams' video "10,000 Hours - Student of the Game." 

  • What does it take to be a student of fire? What are the actions needed to be a successful fire leader?
  • What can students of fire do to prepare themselves as successful firefighters?
  • What is your worst-case scenario? What are you doing to prepare for the unexpected?
  • Read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, and let us know what you think.
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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Food for Thought - Accountability and Feedback

We set the example by demonstrating that team members can hold us accountable, encouraging them to give us feedback on our own performance in meeting stated goals. –Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, page 54

We set the example by demonstrating that team members can hold us accountable, encouraging them to give us feedback on our own performance in meeting stated goals.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Case for Punting

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is time for the Planning Meeting. It was a rough day. Fire behavior today was extreme. Record temperatures, Haines 6, all the usual “oh bleep” stuff. The entire perimeter was active and the east flank ran three miles. The crews pulled back after a hard fight. You lost miles of line and had two tough medevacs. You could sense the tension over the radio when the column built over Division Foxtrot. Oh yeah, there is still a 20,000 foot convection column visible from camp and blotting out the sun. It not only looks bad, it feels creepy. The cars are covered in ash. Tomorrow is forecasted to be worse. You step into the fully packed circus tent to present the plan for tomorrow. The entire team seems more fatigued than usual. That guy wearing a tie in the back row looks important (and upset). The Agency Administrator is stressed–the timber sale and range allotment are now inside that thick red line you drew on the map. Uncertainty and fear are the dominant emotions. All eyes are on you…This is a leadership moment! You step up front and proclaim; “Tomorrow we are going to punt!

*silence fills the tent*

Ok, so you may not say “punt” but metaphors are a great way to communicate. People will often understand metaphors better than a risk matrix. I choose punting because it is a commonly used way of creating margin in football. By punting we create margin. The scenario described above is lacking margin. The other side must have had our playbook. That’s fine, it happens. Two medevacs were two too many. Line lost is unnecessary exposure. It’s time for a conscious decision to increase our margin.

Increasing margin accepts and allows for the inevitable botched play (error) or big play (success). Margin anticipates error and success. It allows as much time and space possible to respond to changes. Margin gives us the ability to absorb error and to capitalize on success. It is using all of our tools to build resiliency and redundancy in the system. Margin recognizes when time and space is about to shove you into a box canyon and helps prevent it from occurring. Margin means you always have a good kicker on the bench; the option to punt before we try a 4th and long underneath the convection column. 

Why margin? We call the combined interaction between fuels, weather and topography “Fire in the third dimension.” Cool title–heavy stuff really. Who thinks three-dimensionally? Spock? Add the human element into the equation (opinions, emotion, biases, beliefs, etc.) and welcome to the fourth dimension of firefighting: fuel/weather/topography/people. Good luck with that one; it’s too many variables to consider. The complexity of the fourth dimension of firefighting will quickly outpace our cognitive ability. The biggest supercomputer would be unable to process all of the potential interactions and outcomes of a large complex fire with hundreds of people and Mother Nature running wild.
Concept of Margin
(Photo credit: USDA Forest Service Office of Learning)
No need to simplify it. You are not that good. None of us are that good. That is a lot of risk to “manage” and a good time to have an all-star kicker on the bench. It’s a good time to build margin and have options. Margin recognizes our humanity. So, a conversation about risk is a conversation about an uncertain future. The human mind does not like uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to stress. Stress often leads to fear. Fear may be the single biggest barrier to critical thinking. The folks in that tent may not be thinking critically. Engage them in critical thinking. It is when we are stressed and scared that we need margin the most. Don’t be afraid to call in the kicker. 

What about Risk and Probability?
Viewing risk through the probability/severity model has value. It is a good equation if we know all of the knowns and unknowns and have large amounts of accurate data AND we operate in a system capable of absorbing error. A casino survives by the probability model, it has probability in its favor–it will win most of the time so it can afford to lose occasionally. How much loss can we absorb with 500 firefighters on the line? 5,000 firefighters? How rare are those anomalies like plume domination and unforecasted weather events or someone reading the map incorrectly? They are not rare. They are the norm. Do we plan for the norm–for the lowboy to get jackknifed on the escape route? On the fireground, unknowns will appear and error will happen. Our current use of the probability model does not embrace error; it attempts to reduce, eliminate or at times, ignore it. Margin recognizes error. It plans for it. It expects it. Error = reality and it lives side by side with success.

Why margin? Because we suck at measuring and understanding probability. Walk into any casino. Buy a lottery ticket. Eat a candy bar. Turn the music up. Text while driving…all of these actions are based on emotion, not data. Data says they are all bad yet we do them anyway. Why, because it feels good. Humans are naturally optimistic. We are emotional critters, not computers. We suck at measuring and understanding probability because it is boring and it doesn’t always give us the answer we want. We all see ourselves as potential lottery winners. What if we saw ourselves as potential causalities?

Look at the difference in these two questions:
  1. What is the probability of success?
  2. How much margin do we have?
Which of the two questions has an assumption built in? Which of the two encourages dialogue and sensemaking? Which one triggers critical thinking? Our current risk model uses green, amber and red. Colors are cool. Simple is cool. Green = Go. Yellow = Go (with mitigations). Red = IC approval to Go. What is wrong with this model? Our business is too complex to settle for three colors to rationalize a decision.

Probability in our business is cradled in the hands of Mother Nature and the decision-making of the individual. We may have great maps, an accurate weather forecast and we may have analyzed the predicted rates of spread down to a fraction. But what if we looked at risk from the perspective of the stressed out, physically- and mentally-fatigued, color-blind decision maker operating in a complex environment (forest fire qualifies as a complex environment, don’t you think?). What if we planned for something unexpected to happen? We botch the handoff, the burnout is too hot. We fumbled on the two-yard line, the safety zone was labeled wrong on the map. What then would risk look like? What if we viewed risk as a metric for uncertainty rather than a measure of probability?

We would be discussing margin.
Remember that next time you are asked “What is the probability of success?” You may want to focus on margin. Or you can just punt.

About the author: Curtis Heaton works for the US Forest Service as a National Incident Management Organization Operations Section Chief and has been heavily involved with the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program, including member of the L-580 Steering Committee.

We thank Curtis for putting himself out there and look forward to many more great posts. All expressions are those of the author.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Food for Thought - Journey Not Destination

Accomplishment will prove to be a journey, not a destination. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Accomplishment will prove to be a journey, not a destination. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wyoming’s Paul Hohn Wins BLM National Wildland Fire Safety Award

Paul Hohn, Assistant State Fire Management Officer for BLM Wyoming, received the National Wildland Safety Award for 2014. This award is presented each year for outstanding leadership and service in wildland fire safety. The award was personally presented to Paul by BLM Deputy Director of Operations Steve Ellis, and awarded by Acting Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation Ron Dunton.

Paul Hohn accepts the BLM National Wildland Fire Safety Award from BLM Deputy Director of Operations Steve Ellis.
"I am truly humbled to have even been considered, let alone to be selected as the recipient," said Paul. Paul's work to develop an Emergency Medical Services program for the state has resulted in BLM Wyoming becoming a Fire Protection Service with fully qualified EMTs. "The focus of the BLM Wyoming EMS program is to provide quality, standardized emergency medical care. Despite several challenges, Paul has demonstrated his passion for firefighter safety and resilience to administrative setbacks," said Kyle Cowan, BLM Wyoming State Fire Management Officer.

Paul works on the Montgomery Pasture prescribed fire.
Working with a local medical director, Hohn was able to develop a program to train BLM employees as EMT basics through the Laramie County Community College. The training was distance-based, so employees could still conduct their daily duties and take the EMT course. Eight BLM Wyoming fire employees from across the state have completed the course.

Paul, and former coworker Ty VanKueren, on a remote fire west of Montrose, CO.
Dunton, a strong proponent of safety throughout every aspect of the BLM's national fire and aviation program, praised Paul's work and accomplishments. "I can't stress enough how important it is to foster and maintain a culture of safety in this business," Dunton said. "On behalf of the management and employees of the BLM national program, we are proud of Paul's work and proud to have him as a leader in the BLM."

Story by Carmen Thomason, Fire Mitigation and Education Specialist.

Reprinted from BLM Daily, February 12, 2015. Paul Hohn is also the BLM Representative on the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee.

Food for Thought - It's What You See That Matters

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. – Henry David Thoreau

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. – Henry David Thoreau

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

2015 Professional Reading Program Challenge

"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

The WFDLP is issuing a reading challenge for 2015! The book chosen for this year is “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand. The book is focused on the story of Louis Zamperini during World War Two, but also looks at his life before and after the war, and the tragedies, challenges and triumphs that he experienced.

The intent of the challenge is to promote the reading and discussion of the book throughout the spring and summer. Discussions are encouraged on the WFLDP Facebook page, the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center Fireline Leadership Reading Room, and ready rooms, engine bays, and fire caches across the land.

 As a value-added feature, readers are encouraged to venture into the Leadership in Cinema realm and watch and discuss the film version currently in theaters and estimated to be released on Digital/DVD/Blu-ray later in 2015.

There are several themes in the book that carry over into our realm of leadership and wildland fire. Two in particular spring to mind: Resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity; and being a leader, even when you have nothing to lead but yourself. This theme, of leading oneself, ties in to the WFLDP’s 2015 campaign of “Followership is Leadership.” Even when we’re not in command or even in control, we can still lead ourselves. To quote William Ernest Henley, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

 Happy reading!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Permission to Act

Green light
(Photo credit: Jupiter Images)
I am 100% on board with the concept of SOP’s and SOG’s, so please don’t misinterpret this message. I also believe that in the absence of rules, people make their own. In a structured and dangerous profession like ours it’s important to have rules, regulations, policies and procedures. It's equally important that we train on our procedures and create muscle memory so that we can improve our chances of success and reduce the amount of unnecessary decisions that will need to be made on the fireground. That said, I find it a bit concerning that some organizations have chosen to replace high-quality training with words on paper.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Food for Thought - Leadership is About Responsibility

Leadership – it’s not about rights, it’s about responsibility. – Denis G. McLaughlin

Leadership – it’s not about rights, it’s about responsibility. – Denis G. McLaughlin

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Four Levels of Leadership

Followership is Leadership: Are you up for the challenge?

Followership is Leadership: Are you up for the challenge?

The Four Levels of Leadership

“A leader is not necessarily someone who holds a formal position of leadership or who is perceived as a leader by others. Rather, a leader is one who is able to affect positive change for the betterment of others, the community, and society. All people, in other words, are potential leaders. Moreover, the process of leadership cannot be described simply in terms of the behavior of an individual; rather leadership involves collaborative relationships that lead to collective action grounded in the shared values of people who work together to affect positive change.” – Higher Education Research Institute

Regardless of their place in the organization, every wildland fire professional reports to or follows someone or something (board, committee, etc.). Therefore, every wildland fire profession is a leader. Each assumes one of four leadership roles within the wildland fire service:
  • Follower
  • Leader of People
  • Leader of Leaders
  • Leader of Organizations

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

2015 Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge logo

Friday, February 6, 2015

“Followership” – The Flipside of Leadership?

Followership is Leadership - Are you up for the challenge?

The Follower Stigma
I’m intrigued by the statement “Followership is leadership” because I think that there is a stigma associated with the term “follower.”

“Followership” is sometimes defined as a negative and demeaning word like passive, weak, and conforming. I think our culture has in a sense devalued followers. “Always a leader, never a follower!” has gone a long way toward adding to the stigma of being a follower.

For some reason or another it is accepted that there is no leadership without followers, yet followers are very often left out of the leadership equation.

Do we really understand the role of the follower and the importance this role plays in the success or failure of a team or organization? We will better understand the significance of the follower role when there is more emphasis put on this topic when teaching leadership. Maybe we should be teaching more emphasis on the art of followership rather than leadership in our L-180 and L-280 courses. I know L-380 has some discussion about followership. But is that enough?

I think followership is rarely discussed when organizations seek to better themselves. Instead we turn the focus to developing leadership skills. Much attention is paid to what makes a leader successful because the thinking is that as the leader succeeds so does the organization. However, this view ignores the fact that leaders need followers to accomplish their goals.

The followers make or break the leader! The leader can set high standards, and provide motivation, energy, drive, and direction. However, it is the followers that carry out that intent. Without a strong commitment from the follower there is no leader success.

Being Courageous
The statement of “leading when it’s easy” is true. Everyone can lead when things are going well. True leadership comes when things are not going so well. To me this is when the followers need to step up. Most of the time in these situations the mind and body follows the path of least resistance. So we accept the easy wrong versus the hard right.

As I think of all the tragedy we have had in the fire culture, I truly believe followership could have saved some lives. One of the most important characteristics of an effective follower may be the willingness to tell the truth. As the quantity of available information has increased exponentially, it has become imperative that followers provide truthful information to their leaders.

Good followers speak up even to the point of disagreeing with their leaders. The truth is that the follower who is encouraged to and is willing to speak out shows what kind of leadership we the fire culture should be instituting. Not only is it important for our organization to know what followers think, but leaders need to respect followers who will speak up and share their points of view rather than withhold information.

It’s interesting as I work to bring together agency line officers and incident management teams that both are looking for followership as part of leadership. The line officer is looking to lean on the IMT for their experience and the incident commander looking for the line officer to provide intent. Who is leading and who is following? Both need to be courageous. Without the eyes, ears, minds, and hearts of followers, neither will function effectively. Both can be followers and leaders at the same time.

The follower-leader relationship does not operate in a vacuum. Leaders sometimes function as followers, and followers sometimes function as leaders. As leaders move back and forth between the two roles, this makes it even more imperative that the teaching and learning of followership continue. Followers and leaders are linked together in interrelated roles and are dependent on each other.

Good Followership
How does one become a good follower?

Followership is no less important than leadership. In fact, followership enables good leadership. Moreover, it is likely that all of us will be followers more often than we will be leaders.

The follower makes or breaks the leader! Active followership means the leader’s authority has been accepted which gives legitimacy to the direction and vision of the leader. Good followers should be able to reflect, adapt and take responsibility for their own actions. Once the follower has understood a decision and had their questions answered satisfactorily, they should back the decision of the leader.

Many leaders have realized that developing their follower skills is critical for creating high performance organizations. Motivation is generated internally, and a leader merely taps into the internal power of the follower.

“Being the last shovel on the crew” – it just doesn’t get more important than that. Think of the impact to those who are leading the charge if in fact the fire jumps the line behind that last person. In fact that position is more critical than any other on the crew at that critical time and place. More burden and weight is placed upon that person than any other.

Values and Trust
I have been amazed over the past couple of years by the amount of time in discussion on “values.”

Values are important in determining follower preferences for different types of leaders. Follower’s values, in addition to other personal characteristics, can influence both their own effectiveness and the climate in which they work.

When a leader communicates trust and respect for the values of the followers, the motivation of the followers takes over and drives them to succeed. A key to motivating followers is the concept of having them realize how important their function is in a broad sense.

While organizations continue to devote time and money to the development of leadership, followership is what enables that leadership the opportunity to succeed. We need to be spending more time and effort on the real impact of followership on leadership.

As a follower I most often use the advice from a bison: stand your ground, have a tough hide, keep moving on, have a strong spirit, then let the chips fall where they may!

Rowdy Muir
(Photo credit: Rowdy Muir)
About the Author: Rowdy Muir is the U.S. Forest Service Flaming Gorge District Ranger, L-380 Lead Instructor, and former Type 1 Incident Commander.

We thank Rowdy for his regular blog contributions and taking the challenge to share his thoughts on followership with us. All expressions are those of the author.

 Take the challenge today!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Food for Thought - Leave a Trail

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Framework of Leadership

Leading in the Wildland Fire Service publication

A Framework for Leadership
The wildland fire service's framework is built upon the following foundational concepts:
  • The Authority to Lead versus the Decision to Lead
    • The authority to lead is established by law. 
    • The ability to lead is something that cannot be legislated.
    • A leader's journey is a perpetual cycle of acquiring, shaping, and honing the knowledge and skills of leadership. 
    • Leaders choose to sacrifice their own needs for those of their teams an organizations.
  •  Art of Leadership
    • Committed leaders can inspire others and make an enormous difference in people's lives, on the results of the team, and in the progress of the organization.
    • The art of leadership requires a constant interchange of theory and application.
    • The art includes being able to view the larger picture.
    • The art of leadership requires successfully balancing many factors in the real world, based on the situation at hand, to achieve a successful outcome.
  • Wildland Fire - A High-Risk Environment
    • We are asked to make tough decisions under a compressed time frame, given limited information, in a complex and high-risk environment.
    • Fire leaders must have the ability to integrate varied resources into effective and responsive temporary teams.
  • Leadership Environment
    • The leadership environment is made up of four elements: 
      • The leader
      • His/her people
      • The situation
      • The consequences (short- and long-term effects of the leader's actions)
  • Command Philosophy
    • Command Based on Intent
      • Describing the task, purpose, and end state is the prerequisite for empowering out people to exercise individual initiative an take appropriate risks and actions as the situation requires.
    • Unity of Effort
      • Leaders must employe multiple leadership skills to influence decisions, forge effective relationships, facilitate cooperative efforts, and ensure that objectives are achieved.
  • Command Climate
    • Command Presence
      • Character is the foundation of command presence.
      • Effective leaders project an image that is calm, organized, and focused on success.
      • Fire leaders take charge when in charge; we lead from the front and act decisively.
    • Communication
      • Communication is the primary tool for establishing an effective command climate.
      • Communication is the foundation upon which we build trust and enable our teams to develop cohesion.
      • Communication enables us to convey objectives and intent, break error chains, and improve situation awareness.
Be sure to download a FREE copy of Leading in the Wildland Fire Service.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Food for Thought: Driven


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