Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Leadership
Cornerstone: February 2016

After retiring as fire chief for the City of Waterloo, Ont., I developed Fire Officer III and IV programs for the Ontario Fire College, and have the pleasure of teaching the programs at the college and to Lakeland Emergency Training Centre, in Vermilion, Alta. I am also finalizing plans to teach in Nova Scotia.

February 12, 2016
By Lyle Quan


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Fire-officer instructing along with my consulting work has led to requests for me to deliver one-day team development and leadership workshops, which has been both an honour and a true challenge; an honour because it gives me the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about team development and leadership, and a challenge because I’m finding it difficult to share all of this information in one day.

The following two books can help leaders understand why teams win and how they can keep their teams focused on learning strategically.

The first book Why Teams Win by Dr. Saul L. Miller is a great read about how strong, focused leadership translates into the development of strong, focused teams. Miller introduces several points for leaders: you need to give your team a sense of purpose by introducing a meaningful goal; you need unearth the talent within or develop it; get commitment from the team; offer the opportunity to give and receive constructive feedback, and build confidence in your team.

In order to accomplish all of the previous points, the author discusses how he has studied and worked with other organizations and teams to find a balance between leadership and letting go. Letting go does not mean walking away; it means having confidence in your people and confidence in yourself as an effective leader. Confidence is accomplished through clear communication of goals, expectations and benefits of the plan to everyone, and by paying attention to detail.

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Openly sharing your vision and the needs of the team creates commitment by cultivating belief and trust in the leadership. Without this belief, people are less willing to invest themselves fully and expend the effort necessary to make things happen.  

Chapter 12 of Miller’s book offers nine team insight exercises that are well worth trying. These exercises involve reflection, overcoming inertia, leadership for all and more. I strongly recommend that you look at the exercises and use them to your team’s advantage.

The second book Strategic Learning by William Pietersen is a true companion to Miller’s book because it embraces many of Miller’s concepts and takes them to another level. I found this book hard to put down.

What is strategic learning? Simply put: to be strategic you need to plan ahead, therefore strategic learning is all about planning and embracing the age-old concept of learning as a lifelong journey. Strategic learning is for everyone in a fire-service organization. One of my past mentors once told me that his goal was to put himself out of a job. He didn’t want to lose his job, he wanted to prepare the organization and his people for his eventual departure. And that is being strategic.

Strategic learning is also about planning for and adapting to change. If we in the fire service do not see the changes coming and plan for how we will meet them, then we may find ourselves failing to meet the needs of our people and the communities we serve.

So how do we stay ahead of the curve? We analyze customer and staff needs for today and project how we can meet those needs in the future. However, analyzing needs doesn’t mean creating a huge databank of information; at least not until you know what you must measure. As Pietersen notes, “To measure everything is to measure nothing.” So maybe the better question is to ask what will happen if your department stops doing something or introduces a new program?

One of Pietersen’s key points about leadership and team development is that, “If the CEO [fire chief] isn’t living and preaching the culture, and isn’t doing it consistently, then it just doesn’t happen.” And, “If you don’t manage the culture, it will manage you. And you can’t delegate culture. As a leader, you are the culture.”

As I’ve said to many of my peers in the fire service, simply reading a book will not make you that super leader, or make your team the best in the world; it’s all about implementing the lessons and recommendations described in the books (or even the course you take). Remember, actions speak louder than words and consistency in how you lead and work with your team is everything.

All the best to you and your team.

Why Teams Win by Dr. Saul L. Miller and Strategic Learning by William Pietersen, can both be purchased through firehallbookstore.com


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. Email Lyle at lpqsolutions@bell.net and follow Lyle on Twitter at @LyleQuan


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