The phrase “lead by example” is over used whereas the concept behind the phrase is just the opposite. Many officers demonstrate the skills and values needed to be an officer however once that goal is obtained, they plateau off and become complacent. The focus on training those under us, should reinforce our own skills but often turns into a session of telling rather than doing. One of the easiest ways to overcome this is to remove the rank title and evaluate what we truly are as officers. We are Lead Firefighters. This means we are just as responsible to upkeep our health and firefighting skills with the added responsibility of knowing what to do.
One thing I love to do with brand new or probationary firefighters is challenge them to a bunker drill. The winner doesn’t have to do the daily details like sweeping, mopping, scrubbing toilets, etc. This is not my responsibility normally so it basically gives them the chance to avoid doing something they should be doing anyway. Many ask why I would be willing to challenge them without having the chance to gain anything by winning. The truth is, by you winning you have obtained three things: demonstrated you have maintained the basic skills, demonstrated the ability to do something they should do, and shown them that you weren’t afraid to do the work you ask of them. In all of the times I have completed this challenge, I have never lost on the first round which is also another positive outcome. Through friendly competition, I improved the performance of the firefighters under me which helps the entire team. Beyond that simple exercise, putting on the gear anytime you ask your crew to, goes a long way towards building respect. The basic concept behind leadership by example isn’t for you to do everything with/for your crew but rather to be willing and able to do what you ask them to do. If I am swamped with reports, I won’t be outside washing the truck or sweeping the floors however, if I am caught up with my work, I am willing to go out and help those under me.
The next portion of leadership by example comes from how you project yourself. Do you follow the rules? Do you wear your uniform properly? The point is, are you the kind of employee you want your people to be? As a figurehead, the people under you and around you are looking at how you behave, how you handle problems, and how you treat the leaders above you. If you are setting the wrong example, those under you are faced with a difficult choice. Do they follow you or do they put you in the category of a leader that has taught them what not to do? That choice is up to you!