Fire Fighting in Canada

Leadership Forum: Micromanagers and the path to empowerment

May 24, 2022  By Chris Harrow

We have all heard the term micromanaging before. What does that mean to you? A boss that makes you check in every day to make sure you are completing your work properly? A leader that gives you all their ideas and thoughts and makes you implement them exactly how they want it? Or is it a supervisor who doesn’t say a word, but continually looks over your shoulder to ensure you work is satisfactory? 

Many have have worked with people who over-scrutinize their work. It can be extremely frustrating to endure the constant questioning and review. The implied lack of trust is demoralizing. A superior who micromanages is sending the message that they don’t believe the worker is good enough to complete the task.

A competent leader would see this as a failure on their part.  If you don’t believe you have trained the employee well enough to be trusted to complete the task sufficiently, shame on the leader for not providing the employee with the tools to be successful. Also, shame on that leader for promoting an environment where trust is not relevant in the workplace. Working in an environment of distrust is not a very fun place to go to work every day.

Empowerment in the workplace is a very uplifting, morale boosting exercise. It allows the people you are empowering to spread their wings and complete a project they have control over and lets everyone around them see what they can strive for. Empowerment allows other employees to work towards taking on projects themselves or expanding their knowledge so they can be prepared to take on more responsibility in the future. Empowerment is also extremely fulfilling to the leader in witnessing their employees’ success.  


When you allow people to expand their knowledge, they learn part of a job that may be above them. For example, a captain may work on a project that normally would be a platoon chief’s job. This encourages the captain to expand their horizons and prepare for a promotion. A leader looks at this as succession planning and part of preparing their organization for the future. The employee can experience this as a trial run to see if they like the idea of competing for a promotion to that role in the future.  

In a composite department with only one or two full-time employees, falling into a habit of micromanaging can be very easy to do. You want to be sure the projects you have started are getting done the way they were envisioned. The time the firefighters have available to complete the project may not be during your office hours, limiting the ability to oversee or be briefed. The need for trust is tested throughout the entire process. Not falling into the trap of micromanaging becomes even more difficult, but a successful project completion with minimal interjections can do wonders for the firefighters at your department.  

When it comes to volunteer firefighters, allowing them to complete projects on their own can be very rewarding and contribute significantly to their retention. Word will travel fast amongst the firefighters about the successful completion of a project and how the organization allows these to happen. It has been said many times that volunteers are not there for the money, so we need other ways to reward them and make them want to stay.  Empowerment without micromanaging can provide these rewards.

As a leader, don’t fear failure or the outcome of a project being something other than what you envisioned. Know that it will not follow the precise plan you want it to. Preparing for this makes the process much easier. In fact, watching the process someone else uses can be a very good learning experience for the leader. 

Volunteer captains and chiefs should run their own calls, not be pushed aside when a chief officer arrives. This is a perfect example of empowerment. Many departments deploy this and can see the benefits in their membership. The same idea can be deployed in public education or training. Give the firefighter the ability to take an idea and run with it.

Every leader can go back and look at projects they have empowered employees to complete. Remember the sense of accomplishment the group felt. The leader’s role is to support and ensure the group is setup for success. Stay out of micromanaging the process and watch the development employees occur.  Remember this and your life as a leader will grow. Enjoy the development, because it is these firefighters that will replace you someday, a day you can walk away proud you had a part in the change.

Chris Harrow is the director of fire services for the Town of Minto and Township of Wellington North in Ontario. He is a graduate from fire programs at Lakeland College and Dalhousie University and holds a graduate certificate in Advanced Care Paramedics from Conestoga College. He can be reached at 

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