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Leadership Forum: March 2013

Peter Parker said, “With great power comes great responsibility. Yes, folks, great power does indeed come with great responsibility and this must be etched in the minds of up-and-coming leaders.

March 4, 2013
By Les Karpluk and Lyle Quan

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Peter Parker said, “With great power comes great responsibility. Yes, folks, great power does indeed come with great responsibility and this must be etched in the minds of up-and-coming leaders.  It takes a long while to become a good leader, and knowing your duties and the expectations of your people will give you more insight into what it takes to become a respected one.

We have put together four keys to becoming a good leader. Understanding these lessons will help any individual become a respected leader.

Lesson One – Foster a trusting environment
Any team has the potential to be dysfunctional; people are human, imperfect and make mistakes. It takes courage to guide the team and foster a trusting environment. The probability of team dysfunction increases when trust is absent from the leader-follower relationship. In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey notes that, without trust, everything slows down. In other words, if you don’t trust your co-workers, you are more apt to evaluate the situation before moving ahead. This causes the wheels of any project to move more slowly, whereas if you trust your teammates, then you will accept the idea or concept and run with it. Whether you are a new fire chief or have just taken on the role of an acting captain, trust is the foundation that you must build and build on.

Lesson Two – Leaders are created
One of the most dangerous myths is that leaders are born and not made. Let’s make sure we clear the air by unequivocally stating that this is not true. Leaders are made, rather than born. There is no doubt that some people seem to be natural leaders and come by it honestly, but even these natural-born leaders have taken the time to learn about the tools of the trade. There is little doubt that the provision of technical training for staff has become a priority in our profession, no matter what level you are at in your leadership quest. This is encouraging, yet, we have a long way to go in providing the prized leadership training that develops leaders within our stations.

Today’s leaders must embrace continuous training and education, and a desire to improve their competencies. For up-and-coming leaders, it is imperative to recognize that leadership is a journey and the arrival at the destination should never actually occur. When you feel you have arrived and have become the leader, be ready for your followers to abandon you faster than rats on a sinking ship. Why? Because when you give off that know-it-all aura, you demonstrate an arrogance that can only spell disaster for you and your team.

Lesson Three – Accountability
Placing personal popularity ahead of holding people accountable is a sure way to lose respect. Newbie officers can be uncomfortable holding subordinates accountable, and may create excuses to avoid those awkward situations. That little voice in the back of their minds may be chanting, “Don’t jeopardize this friendship,” but we want to reinforce a statement made by Stephen Covey: “Accountability breeds response-ability.” Understand and recognize that placing personal popularity above accountability can lead to leadership failure. We have all heard the walk-the-talk saying, but do you truly understand what it means? It means that you are holding yourself accountable as much as you are others. This will give rise to respect and support from your people and produce a positive environment in which everyone understands that all members of the team are accountable to one another.

Lesson Four – Always build on the strengths
Just as we train our firefighters to do the job of fire fighting safely and effectively, so we must also build upon the leadership lessons that are taught and learned. Everyone has something to offer, and it’s up to you as a leader to identify this strength and to use it, or to at least identify that not everyone is a good fit for every team. Identify the strengths of all your team members and find that fit so the organization benefits from it.

Our superhero, Spiderman, said, “The choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option,” and we clearly believe this is true for those desiring to be leaders in the fire service. This is not to say that we have to be a superhero like Spiderman, but it does mean that you need to expect more from yourself before you can expect more of others.

One thing that we have seen in our 30-plus years in the fire service is that leadership and teamwork go hand in hand. When one part of the equation falters, so does the other. Pay attention to both parts, remember these four lessons of leadership, and earn your place on the team every day.


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

Lyle Quan is the fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Both are graduates of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Service Leadership and Administration program. Contact Les at l.karpluk@sasktel.net and follow him on twitter at @GenesisLes. Contact Lyle at lyle.quan@waterloo.ca and follow him on twitter at @LyleQuan.


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