Fire Fighting in Canada

Comment: Motivation and emerging leaders

May 6, 2024 
By Laura Aiken

This edition’s cover story is a well researched examination into the drawbacks and advantages of seniority-based promotion systems, and fostering advancement. Fire Chief Vince MacKenzie also elected to cover the makings of a good leader in the back page’s Volunteer Vision. The subgenre to this big topic lies in identifying potential leaders. Leadership qualities must be identified and nurtured, and as MacKenzie articulates well, training is formal and informal. Great leaders have a specific set of attributes, and motivations play an important part of that.

Consider this quote from the corporate world by Rand Fishkin, the CEO and founder of the market research company SparkToro: “I worry today when an individual contributor is great at their job and expresses an interest in people management. I worry that some significant portion of that expressed desire doesn’t come from a true passion for the responsibilities of people managing, but instead exists because they want to level up their career and/or influence and believe this to be the only path.”

When a member of your organization expresses a desire for leadership, how do you identify their motivations? Is their motivation important to you or are either acceptable?  

In reflecting on motivations, I cruised the Internet researching the very generic and much discussed topic in the fire service of leadership attributes. Across all articles I read, one trait seemed to emerge that seemed to speak in an overarching manner to a number of core leadership requirements, like ethics, integrity and communication skills. That trait is selflessness, and being an organization fundamentally based in protecting and being of service, this quality ought to be found in abundance in Fire. Individuals that go above and beyond, who give credit to others easily, who always seems to be lending a helping hand without seeking a spotlight…these are the rocks of many organizations, forming a backbone of generosity in time and talents.


Of course, people have personal motivations — we all have bills to pay and personal pride and status in play — but the leaders I admire most care very deeply about the responsibilities they’ve been tasked with. This inwardly driven selflessness translates into a great communicator (who sees communication as a two-way street), a person curious about the world and those who orbit in it, someone who is caring and thus empathetic, who is ambitious on the base of integrity and success of the whole, and most certainly adaptable. Great leaders are are not just born that way. They are mentored and coached to reach this side of their potential, and it’s a great and important responsibility of current leadership to carry out this work for their people and organizations.

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