Influence is the Result of Trusted Leadership
As a fire captain, I had countless opportunities to work with teams other than my own. On one such occasion, I was working an overtime shift with an engine company to fill-in for the regularly assigned captain, who was off duty at the time.
One of the many calls we responded to that day was a car fire. Arriving on-scene within minutes, we observed the car with flames rolling out through the windows. With our engine stopped a safe distance away, and without needing to say a word – our team immediately went to work.
One of the firefighters pulled a hose line directly into the “danger zone” and began to attack the fire with his hose stream. The other firefighter grabbed a second hose line and stayed outside of the danger zone, serving as a back-up to the firefighter who was now directly engaged with the fire.
In the event the fuel tank ruptured, which would expose gasoline vapors to the flames, a fire ball would erupt and engulf anyone within this danger zone. The purpose of this standard operating procedure (SOP) was to provide protection for the firefighter who was working, up-close and personal, to the dangers involved with extinguishing the flames.
Once back at the fire station, I was leading a quick review of this incident. I mentioned that our department’s SOP would allow for the protection hose line to be replaced with the fire extinguisher (specially formulated to extinguish petroleum fires) which would cut down on our clean-up time.
One of the firefighters mentioned that Captain [Smith], the regularly assigned captain, wanted them to use the second hose line instead of the fire extinguisher. I was very impressed with this comment – and told the crew to carry-on with their normal routine, as their captain’s preference was within department SOPs, and just fine with me.
A few days later, I called Captain [Smith] to report to him what I had discovered during my shift with his team. I shared the story of the car fire, and then added, that I thought he was a great leader. His reply was, “Thanks, but how would you know, you’ve never worked with me?”
I told him that whatever style of leadership he practiced was working for him. I knew this because of the way his crew went about their daily duties as if he were present – but he wasn’t. Captain [Smith] was a great leader, in my opinion, because of the influence he had on his team’s performance, even when he wasn’t looking.
There are many leadership traits that can influence those who follow. One of the primary traits, or principles of leadership, is trust. If people don’t trust that their leaders have their best interest at heart, then they will not be influenced to do what the leaders suggest – or even demand.
As a fire service leader myself, I had a perfect environment to learn how best to lead. It was important for me to become a student of leadership because if I failed, lives could be needlessly lost, and I never forgot that. I believe that Captain [Smith], along with every fire service leader, is constantly aware of the importance of what they do, and why doing it well always matters to someone.
The good news is that the same leadership principles that allow fire service leaders to successfully lead others, as they navigate the dangers of firefighting and rescue operations, will also apply in any business environment.
Trusted leadership is a learned skill. Much like doctors practicing medicine and lawyers practicing law, trusted leaders should be practicing trusted leadership. As you improve, your performance can be measured by the way you influence others – especially, when you aren’t looking.