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Leadership Forum: The power of value-based leadership

Could you, without hesitation, list six of your personally held values? How about six of your fire department’s stated values? Do you routinely make leadership decisions based on these values?

December 10, 2007
By E. David Hodgins

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Could you, without hesitation, list six of your personally held values? How about six of your fire department’s stated values? Do you routinely make leadership decisions based on these values?

Leading without compromising your personal and business-related values is a fundamental characteristic necessary to ensure you and your fire department survive and thrive in the 21st century. The fire service has experienced tremendous change in the past decade. In the midst of change and connected uncertainties, fire department leaders can play a vital role in maintaining a solid foundation that ensures organizational stability. Value-based leadership will help you and your fire department to manage service challenges. How are values defined in this context? Primarily, values elicit options for leaders to consider, and in choosing an option, leaders demonstrate their personal beliefs and their character.

Each of us has core values. A personal value can be quite ordinary; for example, one’s commitment to punctuality, or the extraordinary commitment to demonstrate a positive influence on society through community service work. Personal values linked with business values are central to value-based leadership.

Effective leaders are at ease with values and take a common sense approach to dealing with challenges. These leaders remain true to their principles. Through courage and internal discipline, they are able to stand firm and do what’s right and responsible in today’s complex and demanding work environment. Leadership is about working with others to accomplish tasks. Together, leaders, peers and team members who share common values, are able to create a powerful network in meeting or exceeding individual and organizational goals. Individuals that embrace highly regarded values are able to envision opportunities and act on them. When we live our values, good things happen to us and others, both on and off the job. Accomplished leaders find the energy to sustain their commitment to achieving goals over the long haul because they feel good about the results.

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Leadership decisions based on sound values will prompt the right actions. Therefore, it follows that values are necessary to achieve enduring personal and organizational success. The important word here is enduring. A partial list of values include a passionate interest in effective health and safety programs, honesty, integrity, accountability, communications, content over form, concern for others, results oriented, hard work, continuous improvement, respect for individuals, accuracy, appropriate use of resources, respect for timelines, quality, reliability, responsiveness, teamwork, co-operation, co-ordination, discipline, integration, creativity, customer service and decisiveness.

The reality is that individuals will usually make decisions and react instinctively based on their values. The same holds true for organizations. This is the “corporate-think” dynamic at work. Therefore, value-based leadership will have a significant impact on an organization. Businesses rated in the top 500 attribute their success to a service philosophy rooted in their key values. When organizations conduct their businesses based on clearly defined values, the leaders are better positioned to work with and support staff in delivering service excellence.

Fire departments need to choose their values judiciously, as these will drive performance. Once these values have been agreed upon, training and follow-up to determine if the desired results are being achieved are compulsory. For instance, your department confirms that two values central to service delivery are co-operation and co-ordination. Through value-based leadership, the potential for individuals with diverse program interests and experience to come together and share resources in support of enhanced public and fire fighter safety, as well as education programs, is enormous.

The term “value-based leadership” may be new but the concept has been a part of modern leadership practices for some time. Conscientious leaders will continue to base their decisions on what’s right and what’s responsible. By connecting personal and fire department values, leaders create a dynamic environment filled with opportunities to have a positive impact on individuals and their essential duties. Ultimately, value-based leadership will have long-term positive benefits. Let your values drive you let and they will take you and your organization to the next level of excellence.

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value,”  Albert Einstein.

And remember, it’s all about “respect and passion.”

E. David Hodgins is the Fire Commissioner for the province of British Columbia. A 29-year veteran of the fire service, Hodgins is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s public administration program and a certified emergency and disaster manager and fire services instructor. He has held senior fire officer positions in Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario.


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