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Leadership Forum: Good leaders are avid readers

Are you a reader?

April 19, 2017 
By Matt Pegg

I have always been a voracious reader. Reading is something I find grounding, relaxing and educational; it is something I crave, especially when life gets busy. Reading provides an opportunity to learn from some of the best leaders and smartest minds, any time and anywhere. There is something satisfying about a good, old-fashioned paper book.

As good as paper books are, technology provides us with many amazing ways to read and learn, especially considering how mobile we are. My e-reader has become one of my favourite tools, and now that the app on my iPad automatically syncs with my e-reader, no matter which device I pick up, my bookmarks and library are up to date. This has made it far easier for me to read, and given that my e-reader can hold almost 6,000 books, moving and storing my library easy.

In March, my wife, Katherine, and I spent a much-needed week away. For us, the perfect vacation always includes lots of time to read. This particular holiday was no different as I happily dove into three great books during our week away. I want to share some thoughts that arose from one of those books.

One of my favourite authors is John Maxwell. Maxwell’s perspective and advice on leadership is exceptional. In his book, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership, Maxwell explains that “A team is a group of people who may not be equal in experience, talent or education, but are all equal in commitment.” I read the chapter that contains that quote, then reread it twice as I was struck by the accuracy and applicability of the statement to the fire service. Every fire department comprises a collection of different people with different skills, experiences and strengths; it is this diversity that makes us strong and effective.


The segment of the quote that resonates so strongly for me is the reality that the key ingredient in any great team is commitment. The absence of commitment, especially on the part of leaders, guarantees that even the most experienced, talented and educated teams are destined for failure. Maxwell explains that failures resulting from a lack of commitment are less likely to happen when things are good, rather, they almost always happen when the heat and pressure are on.

As fire-service leaders, it is our responsibility to be the first to commit. The most effective leaders are those who bring the highest levels of commitment to the team. They lead by example. They are the first ones to go the extra mile. They pull their weight – and then some.

When a team member lacks commitment, projects, service levels, deliverables and other aspects of our business are negatively affected. But a lack of commitment at the leadership level will render even the most capable and talented teams ineffective and doomed for failure.

A few pages deeper into this book, Maxwell asks “If you are the leader, and you are not adding value to the team, should you even be the leader?” These are powerful words that should make each of us who has been entrusted with the privilege of being fire-services leaders to reflect. Being a leader is a privilege. The true role of every leader is to serve others and to create opportunities for our people to succeed. Fire-service officers can never afford to miss a chance to say thank you for a job well done. As leaders, we should be the first in line when things get tough or go wrong, and the last in line when it is time for praise or recognition.

I have never had the honour of meeting Maxwell. But, by reading many of his books, I can say that he plays a big role in my personal and professional development as a leader. I appreciate his candour and the way the he delivers powerful and sometimes difficult messages in a way that makes me stop and think.

As leaders, none of us will ever get enough time to complete the professional development, take all the courses or attend the seminars that we would like to. Books, magazines and executive book summaries afford us a means of connecting with other leaders; they give us the opportunity to learn lessons and examine our own skills and shortcomings. They give us the chance to pause and hear words of wisdom.

Are you a reader?

Matthew Pegg is Fire Chief with Toronto Fire Services, having previously served in Georgina, Ajax and Brampton, Ont. Pegg was president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs from 2013 to 2016. Pegg’s education includes studies in public management, leadership, fire-service administration and industrial/labour relations. He has been awarded the chief-fire officer professional designation and is the recipient of the Ontario medal for firefighter bravery, the fire-service exemplary-service medal and the Firehouse heroism and community-service award. Contact Pegg at

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