Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Leadership
Cornerstone: February 2015

Over the years I have written quite a few columns on leadership styles and the benefits of each style. One style that I have always endorsed and tried to embrace is that of servant leadership.

February 20, 2015 
By Lyle Quan

This style of leadership works on the concept of serving your people by standing behind them, guiding them and allowing them to take the lead (with your unconditional support.) Recently, I read a book that I believe has taken the servant-leadership model to the next level by focusing on the creation of leaders that are greater than yourself.

The book is titled Greater Than Yourself . Author Steve Farber expands on three general tenets of how to create leaders that are greater than yourself.

  1. Expand yourself – learn to expand your horizons and share what you know with those around you. It’s the sharing of knowledge that is more powerful than the keeping of it. Shift your perspective from isolated to connected; from alone to interdependent; from me to us.
  2. Give of yourself – Understand that the more you give of yourself, the more you and your people will benefit. Share what you have learned along with the pros and cons of each lesson.
  3. Replicate yourself – Create leaders who, like yourself, are willing to share information and not squirrel it away.

The takeaway from the book is that if you try to hold on to information for fear of losing control, then you will never see your staff members reach their full potential. Your focus should be on leaving a strong legacy of sharing, and to create a strong sense of team within your organization. This can happen only if you expand yourself and share your knowledge. By sharing all that you know, you will replicate that culture and leave a legacy that you can be proud of.

Another way to look at this is to imagine that you are a guitar teacher. Wouldn’t you want your students to learn everything that you know, and be able to apply it toward becoming a great guitarist? Isn’t that the goal of any teacher – for the student to eventually surpass the teacher? To me, that’s what being greater than yourself means: leaving the organization and its people better than when you got there.


Greater Than Yourself, as a concept, should be embraced in every organization. The book and its theories are worth promoting because you will reap the rewards of a more dedicated team, less turnover and greater buy-in toward the future.

As with most things in life, change is difficult. A change in the fire-service’s organizational culture to include the ideas from Greater Than Yourself also entails managing that change to ensure a successful outcome. So we need to keep the principles of change management in mind because we know that not everyone will buy into the program, even if it’s good for them and the organization. That’s why my second book is about managing change. The book, published by Harvard Business Review, is titled On Change Management.

This book reviews several steps to successfully create change in your organization. These simple steps are:

  1. Establish urgency: the concept of greater than yourself may not be urgent, but there is a valid reason to embrace it.
  2. Demonstrate a strong vision: what will be the benefit of embracing this new leadership concept?
  3. Communicate the vision: share your thoughts with everyone.
  4. Empower others to act on the vision: have your managers share what they are learning from you with their staff.
  5. Plan for and create short-term wins: how are the ranks growing in relation to sharing leadership ideas and concepts?
  6. Consider improvements where needed: sometimes adjustments need to be made to create a successful environment.
  7. Institutionalize the new concepts: until these concepts become part of the culture, there is the danger that they could wane and the organization could fall back into its old habits.

These steps to managing change can be successfully applied to almost any situation. Fire-service leaders need to embrace them and communicate why.

Greater Than Yourself, by Steve Farber (2009), published by Doubleday, can be purchased through the Firehall Book Store here, and On Change Management, by the Harvard Business Review (2011), published by Harvard Business Review Press, can be purchased through the Firehall Book Store here.

Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He has a business degree in emergency services and a degree in adult education. Lyle is teaching the Fire Officer III and IV programs for the Ontario Fire College. He also works with fire services throughout North America to assess and develop service improvements and master planning. Email Lyle at and follow Lyle on Twitter at @LyleQuan

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