Why Vision Matters

+Fire+lookout+volunteer+trainer+Brad+Vision is the lifeblood of a any fire department. It is what keeps it moving forward. It transported the fire service from bucket brigades to rapid intervention crews. It provides meaning to the everyday challenges that make up the complexity of delivering emergency services. It reminds fire department members why they are there.

Fire departments are connected to the economy. And in a down economy things can get very tactical. Many fire departments are just trying to survive. What worked in the past does not work today. What works today may not work tomorrow. Decisions become very pragmatic; they tend to become reactionary.

After a while, this begins to take a toll on the members on the front lines: the firefighters, officers, dispatchers, and support personnel doing the real work on the streets. They begin to wonder why their efforts matter. They have trouble connecting their actions to the larger story. Their work becomes just a matter of going through the motions; running the calls, repairing the trucks, and delivering the supplies.

The clarity of your vision, along with your ability to cast that vision, will determine what you’re able to accomplish in leadership.

This is where great leadership in the fire service makes all the difference. Leadership is about more than influence, it’s about fire department leaders, at every level, reminding their members of what it is they are trying to do – and why it matters. It is about painting a better picture of the future, and articulating that vision to everyone, everyday and everywhere.


Take a few minutes to think about these questions which may help you begin to examine your fire department’s vision.

DO YOUR DAILY ACTIVITIES align with your fire department’s long-range vision?
DOES YOUR FIRE DEPARTMENT’S VISION inspire commitment from your members (remember, members include all personnel, not just firefighters)?
HOW REGULARLY DO YOU COMMUNICATE the vision to those you lead?
HAS YOUR FIRE DEPARTMENT’S VISION been adopted by your members?


TODAY, THINK about what may be preventing your members from believing in and living your fire department’s vision. What is it?

Who’s the Better Leader? The Loud, Excitable, Charismatic Leader or the Quiet, Calm, Maybe Boring One?

UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden

UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden

Bill Parcells coaching the NY Giants

Bill Parcells coaching the NY Giants

What makes up a good leader? I would suggest that it probably depends on the situation or environment. Every event or group of people requires a particular approach; sometimes direct and commanding, while other times composed and guiding. I believe today’s best approach to leadership is “adaptability.” Adaptable leaders who are decisive and action oriented in the thick of the storm, and who demonstrate an openness to others and a desire to grow them in the calm before the storm, will promote and sustain a more practical and effective culture in the organization.

So read here Time Magazine’s Joel Stein’s take on “why the best leaders today are quiet, calm – even boring.”

Who do you believe makes the better leader? Loud, excitable, and charismatic? Quiet, calm, and boring? Or the right mix of both, at the right time?

More Short Notes on Reading Going Pro

Going Pro continues to build on the “deliberate practice of professionalism.” Here’s more short notes:

  • “We must do the right thing, and do the right thing right. That is as simple as it gets.” ~quote from a speech by General Schwartz, USAF
  • The Six Domains of the New Professionalism – Weighted
    1. Professional Ethics – 25% (do the right thing)
    2. Vocational Excellence – 25% (do the right thing right)
    3. Continuous Improvement – 20% (continue to grow)
    4. Professional Engagement – 10% (focused on the customer)
    5. Professional Image – 10% (attention to detail and pride in our profession)
    6. Selflessness – 10% (keep our egos in check)

And more to come ……..

What I'm Reading Right Now: Going Pro by Tony Kern

Going Pro is Kern’s follow up to Blue Threat. It continues to build on human performance by sharing research, personal stories and observations on how to elevate professionalism, both personally and inside the entire organization.

Here’s some brief notes from the first few chapters.

  • Single unprofessional acts cascade as negative force multipliers into the system with the strong possibility of an exponential impact.
  • Individuals and organizations remain uniquely empowered to perform to higher professional standards, and in so doing, create a peer-to-peer positive force for change.
  • Mediocritters are critters of mediocrity. When they meet reality, they under-perform, and in the aftermath, blame others for the situation.
  • Elite performers (Level III Performers) say, I’m a pro because I am doing all I can to be the best I can and further the objectives of my peers, my organization, and the industry as a whole.

More to come ………

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What does a leader look like?

General George S. Patton, drawing by Art Price

Quick, what comes to mind: What does a leader look like?

This question is prompted by Callie Oettinger’s post at Stevenpressfield.com: Crackpot, Problem Child, Great Fighting Leader. She describes the many images of General George S. Patton. There’s much more to Patton than meets the eye.

Clearly, everyone has a view of what a leader looks like and how they should behave. What about the leaders who are just outside of the expected norms, like Patton? What do you think? Are we holding too tight to specific mental models of what a leader looks like?

Read Callie Oettinger’s post here.

Of Related Interest:

June and Art: Letters that tell the story of June and Art.

WHY: A Simple Approach to Leadership

There are leaders, and there are those who lead. Leaders who start with WHY have the ability to inspire others.

Watch Simon Sinek’s TED presentation on how great leaders inspire action.

Steven Pressfield's "The Warrior Ethos"

Steven Pressfield is one of my favorites to follow. I like his historical novels (Gates of Fire and The Afghan Campaign ) and I like his inspiring works (Do The Work and The War of Art) that help us tackle our daily challenges. SP is a storyteller that addresses great questions, such as, “Who are we?” Where do we come from?” and  “Why do we act the way we do today?”

Pressfield has now produced another great work called “The Warrior Ethos” that helps us define and defend our own sense of purpose. Go here to read the full text of “The Warrior Ethos” in lightbox format.

Humility and Leadership

Harry Truman once said, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”

Here’s great advice from the Leadership Freak on an important element of leadership…… Humility!

I’ll never forget G.J. Hart’s observation about high potential leaders, “I can usually tell if they have the humility to make it.”

Humility yields success; arrogance blocks it. One source of arrogance is too much knowledge.  However, there’s something that matters more than knowing. It’s practicing what you know. Putting knowledge into practice tests, reveals, and establishes true knowledge. Practicing knowledge helps produce humility.

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” Goethe

Read the Leadership Freak’s take on Leading yourself into Humility here.

Recommended Reading: Teamwork

Teamwork no longer implies working together physically but also virtually. Here’s three good reads on The Team:

Wildland Fire Leadership – Pulling the Team Together

…The time and effort a leader devotes up front in creating a well-functioning and cohesive team will pay off with great rewards in the end.

…We highlight the following topics regarding “Building the Team.”

  • Trust
  • Healthy conflict
  • Commitment
  • Peer Accountability
  • Team Results
  • Resilience

Steven Pressfield – The Warrior Sense of Humor

The warrior sense of humor is terse, dry – and dark. Its purpose is to deflect fear and to reinforce unity and cohesion.

… Another time, a band of Spartans arrived at a crossroads to find a party of frightened travelers. “You are lucky,” the travelers told them. “A gang of bandits was here just a few minutes ago.” “We’re not lucky,” said the Spartan leader. “They were.”

… Lastly, these remarks are inclusive. They’re about “us.” Whatever ordeal is coming, the company will undergo it together. Leonidas’s and Dienekes’s quips draw the individual out of his private terror and yoke him to the group.

Big Dog & Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition – Team Leadership

….A lack of leadership is often seen as a roadblock to a team’s performance.

….Rather than focusing on ineffective teams, Larson and LaFasto (1989) looked in the opposite direction by interviewing excellent teams to gain insights as to what enables them to function to a high degree. They came away with the following conclusions:

  • A clear elevating goal — they have a vision
  • Results driven structure — visions have a business goal
  • Competent team members with right number and mix
  • Unified commitment — they are a team, not a group
  • A collaborative climate — aligned towards a common purpose
  • High standards of excellence — they have group norms
  • Principled leadership — the central driver of excellence
  • External support — they have adequate resources

A Leader's Expectations: General Robert E. Lee

  • General Lee begins and ends with respect. He focuses on the mission.
  • Lee’s powerful statements:
    • “You have let US down.”
    • “Your mission was to free this army from the enemy Calvary, and to report any movement by the enemy’s main body. That mission was not fulfilled.”
    • “Perhaps you misunderstood my orders? Perhaps I did not make myself clear.”
    • “This must be made very clear. You, sir, with your Calvary, are the eyes of this army. Without your Calvary we are made blind. That has already happened once; it must never, never, happen again.”
    • “There is another fight coming tomorrow, and we need you.”
    • “You must take what I have told you and learn from it.”
    • “I know your quality. You are one of the finest Calvary officers I have ever known, and your service to this army has been invaluable.”