The operating environment for leaders in the 21st century fire service involves unprecedented financial compression, generational work-force transformation, explosive technological influences, heightened public accountability and transparency. These challenges are daunting for many organizations and require leaders at all levels who have both educational and experiential development opportunities necessary to best prepare them and the organization for success.
Business literature has numerous examples of successful businesses built on the model of visionary chief executive officer who drove the organization to high performance but neglected succession as part of his or her vision and responsibilities. These companies often floundered if not outright failed.
The fire service has the foundational road map to develop our officers in place from the fire officer pyramid that expounds of the transitional tools necessary from tactical to strategic leaders. Numerous educational opportunities exist for fire-service administration programs from the vocational/technical level through the graduate level exist in numerous mediums, from traditional to distance learning for flexibility in delivery. Further opportunities exist at the national level through the National Fire Academy including the Executive Fire Officer program and the Harvard Fellowship for Senior Leaders in Government. The Center for Public Safety Excellence’s chief fire officer credentialing process through the Commission on Professional Credentialing also provides an excellent roadmap for necessary core competencies for leading the fire service in these times of “New Normal."
The challenge for many organizations is providing adequate experiential learning opportunities for future leaders. This requires current fire service leaders have a professional responsibility to the organizations success to identify learning opportunities pathways and then being inclusive and proactive in including developing leaders in those opportunities. This no doubt requires organizational commitment to assure that not only are the organizations future leaders supported with appropriate educational opportunities but then allowed to participate and/or observe the situational learning opportunities of leading an organization.
Organizational examples of potential opportunities are dealing with fiscal management, complex human resource issues such as fitness for duty, grievance/arbitration resolution, collective bargaining and apparatus specification development to name several. The temptation in many organizations is to defer such responsibilities to those seasoned officers and executives who have the most experience, which of course is appropriate however the challenge is including the next generation of leaders who are to be best developed to succeed.
The ability to have the necessary educational and experiential development tools in the next generations leadership tool box is a hefty responsibility of current leaders no matter where you are leading within the organization. This is an excellent opportunity to assess how you and your organization are doing at developing future leaders. A “succession assessment” allows for leaders to review in all areas of the organization how successful they are in preparing the those coming up the career development ladder. Flight instructors will often tell you the importance of allowing the student pilot to “assume the flight controls”, under the watchful eye of a seasoned instructor, to experience time under their “belt” in learning the mechanics of flying, organizations are no different!