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  • Writer's pictureChief Dan Jones

Leadership Keys to Success

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

(Or things you must learn in order to lead well in emergency services)

a fire chief talk to his team using his leadership skills
Fire Chief Leadership Skills

I have studied and observed leaders since I was in High School and was impressed by my basketball Coach who always seemed to know just the right tone to use with the team to get the most in performance. Coach Ed Evans impressed me with his leadership acumen and made me want to also be a leader. Since then I have had the privilege and benefit of observing and being mentored by some great leaders. I have also read as much as I can from a variety of diverse leadership authors and experts. Additionally the experience to practice leadership I personally had (sometimes successfully, sometimes awfully) for 30+ years in several different settings including fire department, special operations team, non-profit association and publication. I created this list from all that I absorbed on the subject and from what I believe to be important for leaders to focus on. There is no order of importance other than integrity must always be most important key in everything a leader says or does. Different keys are more important at different times but all must be used by a successful leader. What discipline you are in or what type of organization you lead does not matter. These keys apply in every setting for leaders.

Making Integrity your priority

  • People will not follow those they cannot trust

  • Integrity builds respect

  • Integrity is hard earned and easily lost……. permanently!

Maintaining confidence with humility

  • It is a thin line between confidence and arrogance and it’s not about you

  • Decisiveness, clear direction, consistency and calculated risk taking are signs of confidence

  • Sharing credit for success and accepting responsibility for mistakes is confidence

Communicating Clearly

  • People must “get you” in whatever form of communication you use

  • Insuring understanding is the responsibility of the leader, regardless of the communicaton

Dealing with success

  • Success breeds complacency, complacency breeds failure

  • Always recognizing that is improvement is possible

  • Celebrating success and then setting new goals is critical

Dealing with adversity

  • Opposition, mistakes and failure will come, what happens next is most important

  • Its not about how many times you get knocked down, it’s about how many times you get up

  • You must learn from mistakes and share those lessons

Leading by example

  • Leaders must demonstrate not just say what they ask followers to do

  • Do what you say, say what you do and be a “hands-on” team leader/player

Listening and understanding

  • The greatest ideas will come from others but if you do not listen you will miss those

  • The leader may not be the smartest person in the room or the person closest to the problem to be solved with the answer

  • People appreciate when a leader truly listens and responds to them, even if their idea is not used

Self-evaluation and introspection

  • You cannot lead others unless you can manage and discipline yourself

  • Correct one’s self, owning mistakes, learning continuously, using criticism positively, not beating yourself up, be willing to change


  • Helping and guiding others to success insures your own success

  • Use “guided discovery” to help others learn, not just giving them answers and advice

  • Achieving success is a “team sport” in emergency services, no one does it alone

Setting expectations and giving feedback

  • People seek direction and guidance, those you can give it will be seen as leaders

  • Leaders must “boil down” pages of rules, policies and guidelines so that followers have expectations to follow that are “identified, simplified and clarified” to insure understanding

Decision making

  • If it was always obvious and easy there would be no need for leaders

  • People appreciate decisiveness even when they may not agree

  • Learning a system of information gathering, determining influencing factors, envisioning outcomes, calling the shot and following up, courage to move verses “paralysis by analysis”

  • Owning, acknowledging and apologizing for bad decisions in NOT a sign of weakness in a leader

Goal setting

  • Without a destination, every trip and effort become pointless

  • Teams need to work for a win, everyone shares the goal, breaking it down into a series of goals always reaching to the next level and celebrating achievement together

Developing and following plans

  • Goals are not achieved without a plan, and a leader insures the plan is followed

  • A plan is a road map with options, dynamic actions, measurements, backups, discipline to follow, and arriving together

Knowing how to run a meeting

  • Meetings can be a catalyst for unified progress or a waste of time and talent

  • Purpose, players, objectives, time limits, subject discipline, stated interests & positions with clear conclusion are elements to good meetings

  • If a meeting does not contribute to your goals, mission or current collaborations with other agencies, consider canceling it

Demonstrating compassion

  • Caring leaders will foster loyalty and support, love your followers

  • Valuing your human capital - equipment and facilities does not insure quality service and mission accomplishment, only your people do that

  • Lift your people up when they make mistakes or fail but also practice tough love

Being appropriately enthusiastic



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