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Leading Our People
As a fire service we could be described in many ways: by the number of brigades and fire stations that we have; the numbers of fire appliances; or the size of our communications system. But our most defining characteristic is, has always been, and always will be - our people.
The number, diversity, culture, skills and the attitudes and beliefs of our people describe who, and what, we are and what we want to become. And these attributes are not constant, they are constantly changing and evolving. They are not independent. Many are influenced strongly by what is happening in society in general. CFA should strive to reflect the diversity of the communities in which we live. But in other areas, CFA should strive to a higher goal.
Our members, be they career or volunteer, operational, support or administrative, exist in order to carry out our mission, which is to protect lives and property. To do so we need to operate under adverse, difficult, dynamic and often dangerous conditions. Our people need not only to be trained and equipped to high levels, but they must act decisively and show great levels of courage and leadership at times when others are in need. To do so requires teamwork, commitment and focus on our mission. CFA members are, quite rightly, exemplary citizens.
It is my belief that, as a leader in CFA, we are first, and always, a leader of people. All CFA members who are in positions of authority, or who exercise leadership in emergency circumstances, need to bear this in mind. If we should fail in any area, it should never be in the leadership of our people. Leadership often brings rank and privilege. But do not strive for, or glorify these things. Instead focus firmly on the great (and often onerous) responsibility and accountability that comes with command and leadership. Leaders in CFA should strive to be the very best that they can be.
An essential tenet of leadership is trust. The existence of trust defines the relationship between a leader and a subordinate. Trust is an essential element of Mission Command. Trust enables a leader to be confident that his or her subordinates will act creatively and wisely and with good judgement, in accordance with the intentions set by the leader. In an environment of trust, a subordinate has the freedom of action to exercise initiative and to choose a course of action that may not be anticipated but is still in accordance with the intent.
At an organisational level, intent is set by our CFA vision and mission and by our values and behaviours. All these things we can influence. They can be influenced in a negative way by poor leadership, by spreading negative rumours or by subverting the purpose of the organisation. Far better is when we work together to build an understanding of our vision, mission and values - when we actively live and promote our desired behaviours. As leaders, we and our behaviours are on display at all times (whether you think people are watching or not).
One of the most effective ways of exercising leadership is through physical presence. To move amongst our people, immersing yourself amongst them. To meet in the same place as our people, to look them in the eye and to have the courage to explain, to discuss and to debate is an essential attribute of leadership in CFA.
In today's setting, it is too easy to be subsumed with administrative bureaucracy. It is too easy, as a leader, to resort to the comfort zone of the home, the office or safe ground. We are leaders of people, our role then, is to have the courage to get out and amongst our people.
Through discussion and dialogue, by debating and explaining, we have a unique opportunity to shape the intent, attitude and culture of CFA and the actions of our people. To actively listen, to seek out alternate views and to account for challenges gives a greater understanding of what we are trying to achieve. Feedback, even diverse or unexpected views, makes us stronger individually and as an organisation. This results in better actions.
Leadership is about creating direction and inspiring people to do great things, often in adverse situations. Leaders take our people down a path that they would otherwise choose not to go. As leaders we need to show the way. We need to encourage those who are in doubt or who may need strength. We thank those who have held the course and we set an example for those who need a role model. Leaders do their best; they stay positive; and they take care of their people.
This then is leadership. And you are a leader...