- What are you doing to assess your strategic risks with real clarity?
- As a leader, what are you developing right now that will help your team recover from previous mistakes?
- What is your strategy for dealing with mistakes?
- How do you define clarity?
Developing leadership skills has similarities to training to be a fire fighter. You need a combination of study, direction, and experiential application. But the experiential part of the training should build according to your skill level. A first day fire fighter trainee for instance never sees any real fire – they could easily get hurt or hurt someone else. The really difficult tasks must build on skills that have been learned before. Knowledge must be internalized and feel fully integrated before you apply it on a dangerous ground – and leading others can often be dangerous ground.
Leadership develops in scalable stages
I’ve been both a fire fighter and a manager and so I can find many similarities in the development process. You can be a novice and inexperienced fire fighter and still contribute to the effort of the crew, provided that you are surrounded with more experienced, patient, and yes even insistent fire fighters who will be assertive and courageous enough to keep you out of trouble. Who would you trust to go into a burning building with, knowing that your life may depend on the reliability, courage, clarity, and even creativity of that person? And who would you want to have rely on you for the same strengths and presence of mind?
When I first started responding to fire calls, even though I had nearly 200 hours of fire fighter training behind me, my authority and assignments were limited. I could connect and activate the fire hydrant but was not permitted to enter the burning structure. My job was important (you can’t really fight a big fire without water) but my level of danger (to myself and others) was limited. Plus, there was usually another person there to help if I stumbled at connecting the hydrant (you’d be surprised how tough that can be in the winter when connections are frozen and you’re in a neighboring township with unfamiliar hydrant fittings). Believe me, if you’re slow to connect a hydrant you get some immediate and passionate feedback about your abilities!
Leadership is a tapestry of core skills
Leadership is more than taking command. It’s more than voicing your vision and rallying followers to a cause. Leadership is a tapestry of core skills that you must draw out, balance, and utilize on a heartbeats notices. And, just as in fire fighting (or gymnastics, swimming, singing, acting, biking, or any major skill) in order to have your full capacity at your disposal on a hear beat’s notice takes hundreds of hours of scalable practice and application.
Effective, courageous, creative, clear, and compassionate leaders expose themselves to practice and application, hundreds of times from the smallest least significant acts of leadership to the most controversial and dangerous. To master the difficult requires a studied history of mastering the increasingly more difficult tasks of leadership.
Our sense of learning is like a muscle we must exercise to prevent it from complacency and laziness. We must flex our learning by trying new things. We must develop our leadership skills by taking on new leadership projects and ideas. We must expose ourselves to the unknown and collaborate on new solutions to stubborn problems and situations. Leaders must grow or they lose their edge. Leaders must grow or they decay.
Leadership develops through dialogue and reflection
It’s a mysterious but true possibility that two or more people can experience exactly the same circumstance and learn absolutely different things. Some people can experience trauma or adventure and emerge with new wisdom, new skills, and new ways of seeing and operating in the world. Other people can experience the exact same even and fail to grow much at all. They haven’t internalized, processed, or reflected on their learning.
Developing leadership skills becomes more effective and useful when the developing leaders take the time to reflect on what it is that they are learning and how they can use it in the next opportunity. And, the sooner that opportunity comes that they can apply those reflections and that learning, the more likely it is that they will experience success.
That’s why after a major fire (what we call a job) fire fighters debrief the experience. They review what went right and they review what could have been improved. They take full stock on the mistakes that they made and they plan for how to avoid making them in the future. They go over assignments, tasks, dangers and damage in razor sharp detail from every possible angle to get as full and complete a perspective on the event as they can.
We can all see things differently, so imagine how your perspective can be altered in 900 degree heat, falling debris, and smoke so thick that you can not see anything, even the hand in front of your face. When you’re that deep into a fire you need help. When leaders get that deep into a leadership situation, they need help. Once you’ve emerged from the risk and the noise, taking the time to reflect on what you’ve collectively experienced makes all of that knowledge available for improved application. It’s a strong way to learn, and essential for improving your leaderships development.
You may never walk into a burning building carrying 50 pounds of equipment, but there is still much to be learned about urgency, importance, and preparation from the fire service.
Questions for reflection
Do you take the time to define urgency?
Do you prioritize importance into your schedule, regardless of the level of urgency?
Are you prepared for your next fire?
Many films present provocative and sometimes inspiring views of leadership. The models are often deeply flawed (it is drama, afterall) but sometimes insightful and incredibly useful for creating dialogue. To generate a deep conversation about leadership, or just to reflect on what leadership means to you and how you operate as a leader in comparison, try any of the following movies:
Each film on the list provides its own insights into leadership. And, this is just a partial start at the list of movies with something to say about leadership,
What movies would you add to the list?