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Sept. 5, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – Successful fire departments need leaders who know themselves and have a clear understanding of who they are. These leaders are the real deal and are shaping our futures.

September 5, 2013 
By Les Karpluk

Sept. 5, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – Successful fire departments need leaders who know themselves and have a clear understanding of who they are. These leaders are the real deal and are shaping our future.

I am quickly becoming a fan of Robin Sharma, the Canadian motivational speaker and success guru who wrote The Leader Who Had no Title, and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. Sharma is a no-nonsense expert on leadership development, and any leader who states, “I’m just a guy working hard to make the best of his days . . . and hoping, he’s – in some way – making a difference in people's lives,” – has my vote of confidence.

One of my seven guiding principles is the principle of self-awareness, which I define as the acute awareness of one’s own personality and individuality. Sharma says, “One of the most important of all leadership skills is self-awareness. Know what you are really great at.” He further explains that self-awareness is about discovering the genius inside and focusing on your strong points. I agree . . . but need to add my two cents here.

Leadership is a journey and I believe that authentic leaders lead with their souls, their fearless passion, their astonishing courage and their relentless attitudes. Some people may call the relentless attitude stubbornness, but I disagree. A relentless attitude comes from an intense desire to make positive changes in the world. In our case, this desire refers to those fire-service leaders who want to bring positive changes to our profession – those leaders who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe, even when faced with opposition from peers.


When leaders take the time to reflect and study themselves (a true self-analysis) they learn, since all leadership starts from within. The Japanese have a term for this deep reflection called hansei. In The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation, author Mathew May describes hansei as the rigorous review conducted after a positive or negative action, which can be a sobering reality check that is essential for learning. A sobering reality check that is essential for learning – what a concept!

When people take the time to understand who they are, what they do, and why they do it, the leadership journey really begins. Examining oneself and practising hansei can only occur when the individual is confident enough to look deeply within him or herself. This, of course, requires great effort and complete honesty with oneself. Rest assured, this isn’t a superficial scan of self-examination; when performed properly and regularly, this can be life changing.

Today’s fire-services leaders and, more importantly, the leaders of the future, must grasp the importance of understanding their strengths and weaknesses. They must practice hensei and identify their areas of weakness, and put aside their egos for the betterment of self-development and great leadership effectiveness.

A recent behaviour assessment identified some of my personal strengths and areas for improvement. It was intriguing to use this tool and identify areas that I wanted to improve. I took it upon myself to identify my areas for improvement and now have a plan for further leadership growth.

I believe that successful leaders are aware of, and true to, their core values, and have a clear calling in their lives. Sharma says, “Leadership is a philosophy. It’s an attitude. It’s a state of mind. It’s a way of operating. And it’s available to each one of us.”

Until next time, lead from within and grow.

Les Karpluk is fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration program. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes.

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