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Leadership Forum: Leadership, attitude and about being a grown-up

Leadership, attitude and about being a grown-up

December 7, 2007 
By E. David Hodgins

How often have you heard someone refer to a person's actions as "childish"?  Chances are you have used this descriptor yourself when dealing with an individual whose behaviour was inappropriate and juvenile.  When a two-year old is lying on the floor kicking and screaming we call it a "tantrum" and we use the same word to describe a supervisor's out-of-control behaviour.

There are many other childlike behavioural comparisons that one could use to describe "bad boss" behaviours; however, I am sure you get the point.  Ask yourself the following question:  How would my co-workers and direct reports describe my maturity as it relates to my leadership behaviours?  Is your leadership style that of an adult?  An essential characteristic of competent leadership requires that you act like an adult while treating others like adults.  A dictionary definition of a grown-up is "having or showing maturity in outlook, attitude, or appearance: a grown-up attitude toward work."  There's that ever-present word – "attitude."  I have said it before and I will say it again: when it comes to being a success in life generally, and especially related to leadership, attitude is everything.

Management text books are filled with suppositions used to define the attributes of a good leader.  We frequently read about successful people who have been able to secure the elusive distinction of "Gifted" Leader.  Leadership icons, such as retired lieutenant-general and noted author Romeo Dallaire, are in great demand and are frequently being invited to attend high profile national events to present lectures that focus on leadership.  New York celebrity and past mayor Rudolph Giuliani charges $125,000 for a single speech.  Not bad coin for an hour's work.  At the end of the day, what is it the literature and these gurus have to share that is so special?  One of their key messages focuses on a simple truth.  It's said in different ways, but essentially it's this:  We must act like the adults we are, and more importantly, treat others like adults. 

The fire service has provided me with a remarkable career and the opportunity to serve communities in various leadership roles.  When asked what I have enjoyed the most about my career, I reply, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that the most rewarding positions were those that allowed me to be an active participant "at the grown-up table."


Remember when you were growing up and the extended family got together to celebrate a holiday?  Typically there were not enough seats at the main dining table so out came the folding card table or worse yet the playtime table and chairs.  These poor imitations of dining apparatus were usually reserved for the children.  So there you were sitting with your younger siblings and other assorted progeny that could not possibly be direct relations. The truth is everyone at the kid's table, with the exception of those who still needed to be spoon fed, felt left out and wanted to be at the main table – right?

As adults we realize that it is the decision-makers and power brokers who sit at the "grown-up" table.  The status of the players at the adult table differs depending upon the organization.  At the grassroots or, in our case, at the fire station level, it could be that a fire fighter is allowed to be part of the group made up of a station officer, district and/or platoon chiefs.  In the fire management world, the city manager or administrator sits at the head of the main table.        

Apart from the table metaphor, the fundamental issue remains:  We all deserve to be treated as adults. Local government and fire department policies, procedures, rules, etc., must be written or gotten rid of to address this reality. Character development is at the core of adult leadership. Mature-minded individuals do not abuse authority. Responsible behaviour is the cornerstone of competent leadership.  Adept leaders consider the authority bestowed on them as a gift and understand that they are to deal with this gift in a respectful and responsible manner. For a child, being responsible means doing what you are asked. It's the same for adults, the key exception being that leaders are the ones doing the "asking." As a leader, you are in a position to set the rules and determine the course of action for others.

Respected public sector leaders are mature enough to know that helping others to succeed is the right approach.  These leaders have out grown the foolish "oh, look at me and all the wonderful things I can do" tactic in an attempt to secure a position of power. Mature leaders focus on creating true win-win partnerships, the "corporate" approach in today's jargon. Their core values are centred on involving and supporting colleagues and clients in a meaningful way, ensuring the good work of others is acknowledged and rewarded and through building open, respectful and trusting relationships. And all of this in the interest of those we seek to serve.

This is important:  "you don't have to be bossy to be the boss."

And remember, it's about "respect and passion."

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