Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Leadership
Cornerstone: August 2009

Networking and sharing is alive and well. Over the past couple of years, I have had the pleasure of speaking on leadership and change management at several conferences and seminars, and I have been thrilled to hear that my columns have struck a chord with many brothers and sisters in the fire service.

July 27, 2009
By Lyle Quan

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Networking and sharing is alive and well. Over the past couple of years, I have had the pleasure of speaking on leadership and change management at several conferences and seminars, and I have been thrilled to hear that my columns have struck a chord with many brothers and sisters in the fire service. What’s even more pleasing is that the vision of networking and sharing that I’ve been writing about appears to be prospering.

As present and future leaders of the fire service we need to be strong advocates for sharing what we know and passing this on to our peers and our future leaders. Hanging on to this knowledge doesn’t benefit anybody. The two books I am introducing here support the concept of learning from others and sharing this information.

The first book is Made in Canada Leadership, by Amal Henein and Françoise Morissette. In preparing their book, the authors interviewed almost 300 exceptional Canadian leaders from coast to coast.

As noted in their book, “The most appropriate model for leadership development is the apprenticeship system, because it combines theory, practice and coaching – blending art and science.” We all need to appreciate the real value of succession planning and giving our apprentices the guidance and building blocks they will need when the time comes for them to take over the reins of the organization.

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Henein and Morissette have organized feedback received from their interviews into four categories:

  1. Purpose – What is leadership’s reason for being? In other words, why lead?
  2. Person – In order to play a leadership role, what does a person need to do?
  3. Partnership – Since leadership always involves others, how can we manage the leadership relationship in a productive way?
  4. Process – How does leadership work?

Made in Canada Leadership explores effective ways to prepare leaders, by drawing on the best practices of exceptional Canadian leaders and those responsible for developing them. Whether you are a fire chief, deputy chief or aspiring firefighter, taking advantage of the lessons learned by the authors during their numerous interviews will supply you with many leadership insights. These insights can only benefit you in your quest to become a future leader or a better leader.

The authors further note that to maximize your leadership development means following three key steps:

  • Going in – which focuses on exploring your motivations for leading, discovering your leadership identity and, most importantly, designing your platform, the foundation of your leadership practice;
  • Reaching out – which deals with experimenting with leadership and expanding your capacity;
  • Stepping back – which concentrates on learning from experiences and understanding your impact.

The second book that promotes this concept of leadership building blocks is by an author whom I introduced in a past column – Michael Abrashoff. His newest book, It’s Our Ship, is all about sharing what he has learned from others and how we, as present and future leaders, can learn from these lessons.

It’s Our Ship features anecdotes from business leaders of large and small companies in public and non-profit sectors. The author applies and refers to his practical experience by sharing ideas about how to inspire your staff to take responsibility for their tasks, create a culture of truth and move beyond standard business practices.

Abrashoff’s book brings out many truisms that are critical of the impact leaders can have on their organizations. For example, he notes, that “a careless leader can wreak havoc on an organization, destroying unity and disgusting employees to the point where they start hiding from the turmoil, biding their time till they can escape to another job.” I’ve seen this too often. If your people are not coming to you with their problems, then who are they going to and why?

It’s Our Ship re-examines the old concept of leading by example. It may be a cliché, but if you don’t exemplify what you want people to do, they won’t do it. Leaders really have no choice because they’re being watched and evaluated every day. This evaluation is 24/7; it doesn’t stop when the clock strikes 4:30 p.m. Your staff evaluate how you carry yourself at social functions, conferences and even during those times when you may share a beer and some personal advice. Does this personal advice reflect the type of leader that you portray yourself to be?


Lyle Quan is a deputy fire chief with the Guelph Fire Department in Ontario. A 28-year veteran of emergency services he is a graduate of Dalhousie University’s fire service leadership and administration programs and an associate instructor for the Ontario Fire College, Lakeland College and Dalhousie University. E-mail: thequans@sympatico.ca


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