We have all heard the phrase, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. It has many kin, such as the more crude, “Shit or get off the pot”, or the touchy-feely “Don’t walk ahead of me; I may not follow… yada, yada, yada”. But as a fire service leader, one must realize that this is not an all or nothing proposition. In fact, a good leader will lead, follow, AND get out of the way. A great leader will know exactly when to do which.
Following is another characteristic that a leader needs to employ. The most obvious aspect that needs to be followed is the leaders’ supervisor. Yes, folks, no matter how high up the ladder you climb; there is always someone on a higher rung. Whether that is a superior officer, a municipal manager, or some other “higher authority”, we all follow somebody. Less apparent, is the need for a leader to follow his troops. This does not imply that a leader needs to stay on his subordinates heels, watching their every move (although I know a few leaders who do this). This means a leader should keep track of the personnel in their unit. By following their activity and project progress, a good leader will be able to keep the group on the right track and on the proper pace. Timely support of their activities will enable the leader to maintain accountability while maintaining a respected supervisory role.
Somewhere between leading and following is where the real action is. It is the meat and potatoes of the operation; where the “real” work gets done. It is where the well trained crew knows their job well, and often better than the supervisor. It is the place where seasoned crew members call upon years of experience and repetition of a task. It is where the finely tuned tricks of the trade are employed by the veterans, while the fresh new technology of the recently-schooled probies is tested. It is where teamwork is tested, under battle conditions. It is not the time to teach or explain, or describe. Nor is it the time to critique, analyze, or discourage. This is the time and place for the leader to get out of the way! It is not always easy to assign a task and let it go, but trust in the crew at this moment in time is paramount. If a leader has done his job well, getting out of the way will be easy. When properly prepared, equipped, trained, and protected, a leader’s crew will safely and successfully accomplish any reasonable task it is assigned with a high degree of confidence and competence.