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Leadership Forum: May 2012

To continue with our theme of surviving the chaos in today’s fire service, let’s discuss how other leaders have dealt with and survived chaotic times.

April 20, 2012  By Les Karpluk and Lyle Quan

To continue with our theme of surviving the chaos in today’s fire service, let’s discuss how other leaders have dealt with and survived chaotic times.

We have, in a light-hearted way, titled this column May the force be with you. The Star Wars fans among you will understand that there is a good force and a bad force, and that sometimes the bad force can be very strong. Indeed, sometimes the negative force can be overwhelming; it can eat you up and spit you out if you let it, so it’s crucial that you hold true to the open and honest leadership qualities in which you believe.

One of the keys to ensuring that your leadership remains a positive experience is to find a mentor. In much the same way as Luke Skywalker found Yoda, you need to find someone to guide you through rough times; someone who can energize you when you need a boost. At the same time, you must accept that, as a leader, some days will be better than others. It’s so important to remember that all leaders experience these challenges.

There is a familiar saying that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Let’s hope you never have to test that bit of wisdom. Rest assured that whoever you choose as a mentor has experienced all the ups and downs that you are likely to encounter; which is, of course, why good mentors are able to provide sage wisdom. We guarantee that not every decision made by your mentor was the right one; the point is that those we choose to emulate have learned from their experiences, put them into the memory bank of hard knocks and moved on. Those encounters and the information gleaned from them are now there to draw upon and apply when required.


If you make mistakes, do yourself a favour and learn from them; take the good from every experience and move on. Don’t be disillusioned by the fantasy that you won’t make mistakes. If you don’t make the odd mistake then two things are happening;
you are not making decisions of significant value to your organization, or you are avoiding conflict at all cost by relying on others to make your decisions. 

If this is the situation, then your days as a leader are numbered; no matter how much you are liked by your staff, eventually they will become disillusioned by the fact that you won’t make a decision. Remember, even a bad decision is better than making no decision at all. Don’t get tangled up trying to review and analyze everything to that never-ending degree; this is sometimes referred to as paralysis through analysis. Don’t let that happen to you; it’s a career killer.

Pause for a moment and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I want to stand for?
  • What are my reasons for being in this position?
  • What do I want to accomplish during my time as a leader?
  • How do I share that vision with my team?

If you have demonstrated a true level of professionalism, have shown that you are an honest and reputable individual, and you openly admit when you make a mistake, then you are on the right track. All you have to do is think back to a situation when someone you know made a mistake (leader or not) and how you felt when that person openly admitted to it and asked for support to make it better. Didn’t that instil a higher level of confidence and trust (from you) and make you want to help?

Now, think about how you felt when a person made a mistake and looked for every excuse in the book to shed responsibility for the error. Did your level of confidence in that person increase or decline? Did you really want to help them?

Leadership doesn’t mean you are always right; leadership means you stand for what you believe in, and that you believe in doing the right things for your people, not because its expected of you – because it’s the only thing to do.

Every department has a Darth Vader among its ranks who wants to create dark days for the organization. There will be good times and there will be bad times, but when you take on the role of a leader, remember that you have people who want to help you (there are many Yodas) and want to see you succeed. Seek Yoda and the force and grow. Never give up!


Les Karpluk is the fire chief of the
Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan.

Lyle Quan is the fire chief of the Waterloo Fire Department in Ontario.

Both are graduates of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in

Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire
Administration program.

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