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Nov. 12, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. - What if? This is the question I am going to ask about leadership. Asking what if requires us to break away from some of our existing beliefs about leadership.

November 12, 2013 
By Les Karpluk

Nov. 12, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – What if? This is the question I am
going to ask about leadership. Asking what if requires us to break away
from some of our existing beliefs about leadership.

What if we make leadership a topic in our probationary firefighter training curriculum? Would this plant the seeds for future leaders? For the most part, we spend considerable time evaluating the hard skills of probationary firefighters and very little time on leadership concepts. What if we believed in the concept of hiring tomorrow’s leaders today




I’m not minimizing the fact that probationary firefighter should be focused on being able to drive trucks, pump water, apply water and follow orders, but what could we potentially build into every new firefighter if we focused on some leadership concepts during the probationary period? A recent visit to my optometrist indicates I need stronger glasses, but I see clearly enough to know that providing leadership training to probationary firefighters is a win-win.




What if the fire chief or other officers identified to every firefighter the leadership expectations in the department? Would the time and energy be worth the effort? We all know that performance management is about clearly identified expectations, and that the time and energy invested in this pays dividends in future behaviours. Why should leadership expectations be any different?




What if leadership was discussed regularly among firefighters and chief officers? Not superficial discussions at the coffee table, but real dialogue on leadership that digs deep into analyzing existing beliefs, values, and practices in our departments. I suspect this would push some people outside of their comfort zones, but if we truly desire to lay the foundation for sound leadership in our departments, we must be willing to not only step outside, but to leap outside our comfort zones.




What if we could agree that there is generally an emotional connection to department stories, and because of this emotional connection, most stories are viewed as fact, even when they are embellished. And, because stories have a strong influence on the beliefs, values and behaviours of individuals, what if we insisted that our probationary firefighters are not exposed to the stories that can be detrimental to a probationary firefighter’s view of his new world? Yes, I know it's a crazy idea and I’m taking all the fun out of orientating our probationary firefighters, but what if?




What if we pursued leadership training in our departments as diligently as we pursued other training? Would such training become a vital part of the skills and abilities of every member in the department and become ingrained into our very cultural? If there is a negative component to this I need to know, because I don’t see it.

What if we removed the cynical view of the different generations and made efforts to provide leadership training to everyone in our departments, and focused on the strengths we all bring to the table? Would leadership take on a new role in our departments, and would the result be better morale? What if?

There is no doubt that leadership can be challenging and is measured by how well firefighters follow the leader. Maybe its time to ask the questions that force us outside of our comfort zones and look for new ways to view the leadership challenge in our profession.

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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