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Leadership Forum: Pandemic leadership

May 27, 2020 
By Chris Harrow

To say the current pandemic has changed the world is probably the understatement of the year. All of us are dealing with issues we never thought we’d encounter. “Isolation”, “social distancing” and “COVID-19” are all terms never used in the fire service until now. The pandemic is a massive test of leadership skills for any leader in the fire service and beyond.

Now, more than ever, it is very important for all leaders to stay within their skillset. All members of the fire service are desperately trying to stay up-to-date on information, which is often changing daily as the pandemic evolves. We are reading each new update and altering response protocols quickly to match the latest recommendations from the experts in the field.

Leaders need to ensure they are willing to change and evolve as a fast as COVID-19 crisis. Throughout the pandemic, it’s extremely important to maintain the leadership skills you have developed throughout the course of your career. Do not try to be something you are not or attempt to emulate someone who you will never be. In a time where each leader needs to be in constant communication with their staff and co-workers, trying to be everything to everyone will cause communication breakdowns. This is especially true in the world of social media, the mechanism many of us use to get our messages out to the people we serve. We should communicate with residents of our communities, firefighters and allied resources on a regular basis during times of crisis. Social media is, at times, our only way to communicate with the outside world. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic with social distancing and isolation.

Every leader should have their own guidelines for posting on social media. When using a personal account, you should have a personal framework and tone but also must set limitations. This is, again, especially true in times of crisis when people turn to the leaders to educate them. This is a time for leaders to rise to the occasion, but also provides a prime time to fall from grace.


For reference, take a look at various world leaders and how they are dealing with the crisis facing their respective countries. While I’ll refrain from providing specific examples or getting political, you only need to select a few countries to see how their leader’s communication style — particularly their social media use — is working to educate and inform their citizens. Not staying on point and emphasizing the proper messaging can do a large amount of damage.

Each leader must set parameters, either written or understood, documenting their main goal for social media use. If the main goal is to educate the public and disseminate important information, stay in that mindset. It is okay to insert humour into your feeds once in a while as a way to keep people entertained and interested. This is also a fine line to walk. The wrong post, tone or topic may compromise your authority or cause you to lose followers.

I do not pass myself off as a social media expert. My feeds are pretty boring and not well used. I do, however, understand their purposes and the value that can be had in using social media. A great example of remaining on message is my partner in this column: Chief Matthew Pegg. His leadership for the city of Toronto throughout this pandemic is exemplary. He continues to push out excellent information and motivational posts to keep Toronto residents informed. He has also injected a slice of humour at the proper time but his retweets stay within the lines of the messaging he is trying to get across. Kudos to Chief Pegg and the job he has done in one of the toughest environments.

During the ongoing pandemic, people are spending more time on social media and residents are consistently looking to us for relevant information. There is an abundance of incorrect information circulating so it is up to leaders to ensure they are posting relevant, truthful information. Stay on topic and continue to send out the proper information.

We are all in this together. Now more than ever, our residents need to see leadership. They want to be reassured we are on top of the situation and we have not hit the panic button. Continue to display the leadership tactics that have made you successful in your position. Stay safe and hopefully we can all resume some sort of new normal soon.

Chris Harrow is the fire chief in Minto, Ont. 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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