Often, a successful promotion is defined by scoring high on a test, doing well in an assessment center, or even merely getting the position. However, the “work” does not stop the day we achieve the rank, and successful promotion is not solely defined by obtaining new collar brass. Successful promotion is also characterized by our ongoing efforts, after assuming the new role or rank.
Five essential areas to focus after assuming a new leadership role are: continue to be a student of your position and its responsibility, develop your leadership abilities while building trust, build and maintain your credibility, identify and develop key relationships, and lastly, recognize this promotion is not about you. In my series of posts on this topic, I will discuss these five concepts and share tips on how to be successful in these areas.
Topic 2: Develop your leadership skills while building trust:
Continuing my posts on successful promotion, I would like to discuss leadership and trust. Assuming you have just promoted, as you settle into your new role, you will soon be faced with a decision; will you manage or lead. Your choices in this area, surround your knowledge and experience of leadership and management, and come from learned practices based on those who you served under previously and your own personality. As Fire Chiefs, we often find ourselves in a very dynamic environment. It is difficult sometimes to find a balance as both management and leadership are often needed. Perhaps you already have developed a style and are comfortable with it, or maybe you feel a change is necessary. While you may already have established your style of leadership and management, it is often best to periodically re-evaluate it for effectiveness.
Whether you are one who controls or one who influences, undoubtedly in your new position, you will be seeking to build or maintain trust with your group. There are many theories on trust, how it is developed, and how it applies to leadership. Some folks assert that you must build trust, while others believe trust is given initially and then must be maintained. I believe that both may apply depending on the situation and that no single theory is either right or wrong. How you apply these theories and its measured success, is very dependent on the group you are leading, their morale and organizational health. Developing trust can also be affected by whether you are an outside candidate, or you promote from within the organization. Remember, trust is a rational choice and should not be confused with compliance. Much like respect, it is not something we can enforce through the policy manual.
Regardless of what philosophy you align with, and regardless of how you seek to achieve the trust of the group you lead, the foundation of leadership trust is built one main principal: credibility. The development of your credibility started the first day on the job; therefore, if you are an internal candidate, those who you are about to lead will already have formed some opinion of you. If this opinion is not a favorable one, and your credibility is in question, you will need to find a way to rebuild it in your new role and disprove formed opinions. If you are an external candidate, you may walk in with some credibility ‘handed to you’. However, this will depend on the trust in the organization and their trust in the process to vet the right candidate. If there are internal issues or conflict, trust may be more challenging to achieve; however, the pathway remains the same.
Credibility is based on two main principles, character and competence. Character speaks to both your integrity and your intent. I refer to these as the two “cores” of character. First, integrity is far more than just “doing the right thing when no one is looking.” It is about holding yourself accountable, learning from your mistakes, and developing relationships based on honesty and communication. Concerning intent, every decision we make as leaders, is based off choices, reasoning, and desired outcome. If any anytime, our “intent” is anything short of making the organization better, we run the risk of damaging our credibility. We will discuss this a little more in my third post.
The second principle of credibility is competence. The two “cores” of competence are capabilities and results. These are closely related and may overshadow each other; however, generally, we are judged by results. For example: if you are not highly competent in an area, or do not have a lot of experience in a specific discipline; but, have positive results, this will build some credibility with your group or department.
Lastly, trust is a two-way street. If you want to continue to build a trusting relationship with your team, you will need to give some trust as well. Often this is difficult for us, especially if the organization has some internal issues, or if we are an outside candidate coming into a leadership role. It may take a while, and it may just be in select areas; however, if you don’t share trust, you will kill creativity, motivation, morale and ultimately be less effective as a leader.
Next up: Topic 3, Your promotion is not about you.
I currently serve as the Fire Chief for the Rio Vista Fire Department in Northern California. I lead a City Fire Department, and under contract, am the Fire Chief of a neighboring Fire District. I have worked in a number of Organizations, both full-time paid Departments and combination Departments. With a wide variety of experience in the promotional process on both sides of the table, and experience being en external candidate, I am able to speak from personal experience on many topics. I have also been given the opportunity to mentor many though the promotional process and beyond.
I am designated as a CFO (Chief Fire Officer) from the Center for Public Safety Excellence, hold a B.S. in Public Safety Administration, an A.S. in Fire Science and am a certified Chief Officer through California State Fire Training.
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