The Paradoxical Commandments of Fire Service Leadership


Blog by Doug Cline
International Society of Fire Service Instructors, Vice President

It’s always good to remember what we were taught by our mentors. Listed below are The Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership, which I was raised on during my early years in the fire service. These commandments of fire leadership are right on, not only for those of us in the fire service, but every profession and in all areas of life.

Here are The Paradoxical Commandments of Fire Leadership:

1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway!

2. If you do well, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do well anyway!

3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway!

4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do it anyway!

5. Honesty and frankness makes you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway!

6. The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. Think big anyway!

7. People favor underdogs, but follow top dogs. Fight for the underdogs anyway!

8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway!

9. People really need help, but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway!

10. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give your best anyway!

Ironically, I was searching for something else in the office when I ran across an old text book that I utilized while going through the International Society of Fire Service Instructors Company of Development Series many years ago. One of the authors of the book, Fire Chief Dan Jones, wound up being my mentor. The book Managing People happened to fall to the floor during my search and randomly opened up to page 32 where these commandments were listed.

This just happened to be at an opportune time in my life when I was looking to clarify focus, create drive and provide sound direction for my future. These commandments were like a sign from above.

Over the past year, I’ve had many discussions with colleagues across the country about the issues and frustrations we encounter on a daily basis in the fire service. It can be depressing. And I’m sure it’s not just the fire service. The future holds so many uncertainties. I’ve watched friends with more than 25 years be laid off. We see fire stations closing, training centers shut down and good leaders cut at the knees by ram-rod political events.

I believe the book falling open to the exact page of The Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership is one of those events the kind that make you say, OK, I get it!

My frustration with the fire service is like riding a roller coaster. Many issues influence my feelings. I often find myself disheartened with current events that happen routinely in our business. Thankfully, The Paradoxical Commandments, which were written in 1968 by a 19-year-old Harvard student named Kent Keith, have given me, and will continue to give me guidance.

Keith’s commandments were part of The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, his first book for high school student leaders, which can be carried over to everyone in every profession.

I laid down the Paradoxical Commandments as a challenge, Keith is quoted saying. The challenge is to always do what is right and good and true, even if others don’t appreciate it. You have to keep striving, no matter what, because if you don’t, many of the things that need to be done in our world will never get done.

Thank you, Mr. Keith, for your wisdom. It’s as true today as it ever was.

About the Author
Douglas Cline is a student of the fire service serving as training commander with the City of High Point (N.C.) Fire Department and assistant chief of administration with the Ruffin Volunteer Fire Department. Cline is a North Carolina Level II Fire Instructor, National Fire Academy Instructor and an EMT-Paramedic instructor/coordinator for the North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services. Cline is a member of the North Carolina Society of Fire Service Instructors and the International Society of Fire Service Instructors where he serves on the Board of Directors as The First Vice President.

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