By Mark vonAppen
I believe firefighters can be placed into 3 categories in terms of engagement and leadership. Generally speaking:
- 25% believe in (or pretend to believe in) current leadership staff
- 35% have no faith in (some of them even hate) the leadership staff
- 40% could go either way given strong direction and leadership
Of the 35% that contains the haters, there is a very temperamental subset that can have a profound impact on organizational chemistry.
The most important firefighters to capture are the rogue leaders, those passionate individuals who, if ignored, can be savage and destructive forces on the team. Like it or not, your truest leaders are not always the ones who do exactly as they are told or what the book says is right every single time. Your best leaders are not necessarily “yes men”. The best leaders are functionally intelligent, independent thinkers who scare the shit out of micro-managers.
People gravitate toward strong personalities, not drones who do just exactly what is expected of them and nothing more. Some of the strongest leaders among us have pushed it right to the edge and some have even gotten kicked off of the team. Passion is energy; channelling that energy in a way to best suit the needs of the team is the key to overall success. Some of history’s most influential leaders were agents of evil, I sure-as-hell don’t want them on my team. In order to bring the rogues home, you must first understand who they are.
Rogues are driven by passion. Sometimes, your informal, real leaders wind up getting chapped by positional leaders who don’t know what to do with them. Rogues have a lot of energy and original ideas, because of this they are seen as trouble makers who rock the boat. They ask questions. They can be found training by themselves or in tight-knit misunderstood groups. They are often your highest fireground performers because their passion and drive for perfection won’t let them stop training and learning. They are students of the craft in the truest sense. The rogue believes that when your job has the potential to take your life, you had best make it your life’s work. Rogues are intolerant of those who do not understand their drive or respect the craft.
Communication, trust, and confidentiality are the keys to success in any leadership endeavor, but particularly when dealing with the bristly rogue. Cultivating trust in the firehouse is a must have if we seek an elite level of performance.
Each rogue leader must be engaged individually. Build trust by treating everyone as unique, and shower them with genuine interest. Place these fiery leaders in positions where they have the best chance of affecting others with their strength, their passion for the craft. They must feel that the organization will not quit on them, even when they overstep their bounds. The deal breaker is if the rogue does harm to the team, this cannot be tolerated. The obligation of the informal leader is to make every effort to try to contribute to the success of the team. People must feel that the leader is speaking to them individually even as the leader is addressing an entire group. Trust and connection must be built and it might take a while.
How do you develop trust?
- Honesty – most rogues have something in their career that has made them jaded, be honest or you’ll lose them forever
- Create stakeholders – include informal leaders in the planning process
- Clearly communicate the plan and then execute it
- Mutual exchange – have expectations of the individual and allow them to have expectations of positional leaders
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Rogue leaders have loaded dispositions that can either aid in leading the group forward or act to tear the team apart. The key is taking all of that energy and focusing it in the right direction before it goes sideways from lack of exercise and frustration. Rogues just need someone they can trust and who truly believes in them. People follow passion much more readily than rules. Find your most passionate people and bring them on board. True progress is made when passion and lofty goals meet planning and expectations.