Fire Fighting in Canada

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Leadership Forum: May 2009

A good leader can mean the difference between success and failure, but so can a good leader-in-training. It’s been my experience that good people typically make good leaders. Operating guidelines, rules, regulations and protocols become dated, systems fail, buildings deteriorate and machinery wears down.

April 22, 2009
By David Hodgins

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A good leader can mean the difference between success and failure, but so can a good leader-in-training.

It’s been my experience that good people typically make good leaders. Operating guidelines, rules, regulations and protocols become dated, systems fail, buildings deteriorate and machinery wears down. People, however, grow, develop and become more productive and effective, especially if they have the opportunity to work with talented leaders who realize their value and encourage them to grow.

Successful fire and emergency management organizations, like private-sector companies, are able to deliver effective and valued client services because of the skilled people they employ. The opportunity for your emergency services organization to thrive while seeking to become world-class connects directly to the potential of its people. Good leaders will support staff by helping them develop basic and advanced leadership competencies. It is a fact that accomplished leaders surround themselves with those who demonstrate leadership potential. Astute leaders seek out the best people and then help them become capable leaders in their own right.

A leader’s core responsibility is to take the time to help others succeed in the world of leadership. It is also the right thing to do in order to achieve organizational service delivery goals. And it is an effective means through which leaders can fulfill their personal career ambitions. If I have learned anything in my 32 years in fire and emergency services, it is that the people closest to a leader, regardless of the leader’s rank, are well positioned to determine the leader’s degree of success or, conversely, the extent of failure. This is a nice way of saying those who work closely with you can either help you up the corporate ladder or to help you out the back door. In doing the right thing through supporting the development of others you are facilitating the creation of a workplace environment and culture that respects and celebrates the ability of good people to become effective leaders and supportive colleagues.  

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As I talk with other emergency service providers they tell me how extremely busy they are and how they wish that there were more people to share the leadership load. I would suggest that there is a great opportunity within most organizations to reach out and create potential leaders. Doing so not only helps to share the leader’s load, it benefits the leaders-in-training. The reality is that when you invite good people to work closely with you and to be part of your leadership training circle you will gain the in-house resources to assist in accomplishing required strategies, tactics and tasks. Developing a mentorship program or supporting a mentorship process, either informally or formally, allows for the transmission of knowledge, the development of good communication and relationship building that is perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career or professional development. What better way to support growth and development of new leaders! Your protégé can receive the benefit of your wisdom and experience.  The purpose of mentoring is not only to support up-and-coming leaders but can also play a role in succession planning. Mentoring can establish the capacity to leave the business in good hands, so to speak.

I have also noticed that leaders-in-training are skilled at asking questions that will make you think about impending decisions and potential actions. Don’t hesitate to ask them for their ideas and advice. Remember, you have invited them to work alongside you because they are capable individuals. This is my way of saying that when you mentor potential leaders, you are multiplying your chances of being successful. You need to be constantly thinking about the future of your current area of responsibility and the good of your organization.  What will be your legacy? If you have done a good job of developing others, it’s likely you will have left your work unit in great shape as you move up or out.

Despite the large quantity of well-researched literature available on the subject of a leader’s responsibility to educate and mentor others, there are leaders who continue to believe that developing leadership abilities in others will put their own position and/or future in jeopardy. This is definitely a sign of a leader who is insecure and feels threatened by the people around him/her. The fact is, accomplished leaders are encouraged and not threatened by the potential success of others in the workplace. These leaders understand and have embraced the responsibility of helping colleagues reach their full potential.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”     

– President Barack Obama.


David Hodgins in the managing director, Alberta Emergency Management Agency. He is a former assistant deputy minister and fire commissioner for British Columbia. A 30-year veteran of the fire service, he is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s public administration program and a certified emergency and disaster manager. Contact him at David.Hodgins@gov.ab.ca


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