Fire Department Leadership: Nature vs. Nurture

leadership in the fire service

“Leadership is the art and science of influencing and directing people to accomplish the assigned mission. … Leadership does not equal command, but all commanders should be leaders.”

The Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1, Leadership and Force Development

We all know it when we see it. When we hear the words “leader” or “leadership,” certain people come to mind. Whether it was someone’s steadfast presence on a tense call, or maybe how they mentored a younger firefighter. We all have that sense of relief when we know a certain individual will be leading a scene. I can think of several incidents over the years where it could have gotten squirrely, very quickly, but the ICs on scene used their presence of command, the tone of their voice, their experience, and trust in their crews to beat the odds.

Where did they learn these traits?

Some people believe leaders are born while others are developed. In a recent edition of Fire Engineering Magazine, Bobby Halton discussed this theory of nature vs. nurture and the considerations of being born with a certain set of inclinations and predispositions that are the foundation for leadership.

Halton also discussed the other aspects of developing leaders, through the environments that surround us growing up. If you review the two excerpts above from the U.S. Army and the Air Force, neither statement references born vs. developed. Furthermore, it does not specifically reference rank or seniority as being a leader, but they both reference the power of influence and inspiration to achieve a goal.

Barn Boss LeadershipIn my book, Barn Boss Leadership (under review) we take the stance that leaders are developed through experiences and mentoring by wiser individuals. As we develop throughout our careers, it is the experiences (from incidents and training) that drive us to become better leaders.

It is the job of the veteran to show the way, provide opportunities and lead by example. If you are up and coming – ask for the hard assignments, take on additional responsibilities, and listen to the experience surrounding you. If you are a veteran – give those below you a chance, share your knowledge, and say yes more than no.

Mentoring is key, but it is the responsibility of the up and comer to position themselves to be mentored. This is done by positioning yourself to display your enthusiasm, motivation and desire as a student of the service.

Be safe, train hard and go mentor someone!

About the Author
Brian Ward is the chief of emergency operations for Georgia Pacific in Madison, Ga. He is also the author of Fire Engineering’s “Training Officer’s Toolbox” and the managing editor for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference. Brian serves on the ISFSI Board of Directors and is a member of the Georgia Smoke Divers. He is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Organizational Development from Columbia Southern University and is the founder of Brian can be contacted at [email protected].


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