Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Leadership
Leadership Forum: September 2013

Our intention has always been to bring forward ideas that stimulate readers to think about leadership from a new perspective.

September 9, 2013
By Les Karpluk and Lyle Quan


Our intention has always been to bring forward ideas that stimulate readers to think about leadership from a new perspective. This month, we want to focus on the importance of understanding the concepts of self-awareness, recharging your batteries and helping others to grow.

Successful fire departments need leaders who know themselves and have an inner compass that points them in the right direction ethically, morally, emotionally and spiritually. Self-awareness is having a keen understanding of one’s personality or individuality. Successful leaders regularly examine who they are, what they are and what they stand for. Whether speaking to leaders or researching leadership traits, it quickly becomes evident that successful leaders reflect on what they want to accomplish in their lives, why they want to do it and how they will lay out the steps to achieve those goals.

Leaders who understand their strengths and weaknesses are able to lead with passion and courage, and clearly demonstrate through their actions that they have that inner compass that guides them during the trials and tribulations that test us all. These are the leaders who also understand their unique talents and how best to use them in their departments. Without understanding your core values and what you believe in, you will not be able to withstand the storms that are sure to come your way and could damage your attitude. All leaders and teams will face adversity; how you handle this adversity will demonstrate (to you and others) what you stand for and what you are truly made of.

True self-awareness is understanding that you will never be perfect and, in fact, that failure will be a part of the leadership journey. Gen. George Patton said, “I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs, but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.” The leaders who understand the importance of self-awareness will be able to bounce back from failures and grow from the experiences. We believe this is where true leadership growth comes from – from learning about ourselves during those times when we are tested by the events that take us out of our comfort zones. Without knowing what you stand for or believe in, there is potential to succumb to the negative aspects of a situation and become bitter. When this happens, you plant seeds of anger and resentment, which will only make matters worse.


When you, as a fire service leader, experience a potentially life-changing challenge, it’s that strong sense of self-awareness and your moral compass that will help you to navigate the situation. As such, you may also find this experience to be a real opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Today, leaders in the fire service are experiencing more demands on their time along with greater expectations from municipal governments and their communities. Often, it seems as if we are being pulled in 10 different directions and it doesn’t take long for the energy to be drained from our mental, emotional and spiritual batteries.

We cannot stress enough that it is critical to take the time to recharge. You cannot lead others if you are sapped of your energy. Do not lose sight of what is important to you and your family. We all need to get away from the office and have some “me” time. This will not only help you to refocus but will also help you to maintain a healthy state of mind.

One of the positive benefits to this me time is that it gives you the opportunity to delegate projects to others, which gives them a chance to prove to you that they can get things done. The more you let go of the reins and demonstrate faith in the abilities of your team members, the more you increase your leadership strength by becoming that supportive leader.

Think back to when you were climbing the leadership ladder; didn’t you want the chance to take the reins, to share the responsibility and workload with your chief? Take the time now to loosen up on those reins and allow your people to grow.

Self-awareness and recharging your batteries are not always about how much you can take on yourself; they are also about identifying your strengths and determining how you can share the workload with your team. Trust in your members; support them; allow them to grow. You will feel a great level of satisfaction knowing that the work is getting done, and that at the same time you are doing some succession planning, with the bonus being that you are giving yourself more of that me time to take care of your other priorities – family
and yourself.


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 and follow
him on twitter at @GenesisLes. Contact Lyle at and
follow him on twitter at @LyleQuan.

Print this page


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *