Texas Commission on Fire Protection
Leadership Earned NOT Granted!
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a fire service family which allowed me access to many great fire service leaders as a young kid. Before I started my basic fire academy in 1987, one of my mentors told me something that has stayed with me for thirty-four years now. He said “Remember four words and always apply them to whatever you are doing – Integrity, Respect, Consistency & Legacy.” It hasn’t always been easy and I will be the first to admit that I have made mistakes along the way but these four words have helped me through many tough situations as I have grown and learned about being in a leadership position.
Today’s fire service is full of multiple generations and each one is unique. The typical first day in any firehouse starts with the Senior man telling the new rookie “Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut kid!” That sounds harsh and it is usually the ultimate challenge for a twentysomething-year-old who just graduated from the fire academy, but it is good advice and is one early example of showing Respect. Another saying is “Always do the right thing, even when no one is watching.” This is Integrity. Establishing yourself as the one who is first to start working and the last to sit down, is the beginning of Consistency and that earns Respect. Being aware of how you want to be remembered and always acting in that manner is the beginning of your Legacy which will last long after you are gone.
Everyone makes mistakes. Hopefully they survive those mistakes and learn from them. When those lessons are applied with the knowledge gained through formal education, it should enable anyone to prevent making the same mistakes again. The definition of insanity is “doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different outcome.” If that works for you, consider yourself lucky; however, understand that those watching you see someone who is unwilling to accept and learn from their mistakes. Those same spectators will find it hard to respect, trust or follow you because of their experiences with you.
In most organizations, promotions are based on knowledge. There are several ways to test that knowledge whether it’s a written exam, Assessment center or education-based system. Seniority counts in every one of those processes, but it really means very little in the final score. Seniority does represent learned lessons, and it also brings with it all those good and bad decisions you made along the way. You need a good blend of both formal education and life lessons to be successful. You also need Integrity, Respect, Consistency and Legacy because that promotion to Lieutenant, Captain or Chief doesn’t make you the leader simply because you have the title. You become the leader when you have earned the trust and respect of those you are charged with leading. Leadership is earned, not granted and that starts on day one!