There are plenty leaders standing alone on the proverbial organizational island. It has been said time and time again “the higher up the food chain we ascend, the lonelier we may become.” Why is this so? Perhaps we may have lost sight of how vital our values and principles transcend any leadership style. Let’s identify a few of what may be many examples of the values and principles that are exemplified by outstanding leaders in the fire and emergency services.
The subjectivity of the human condition when discussing values is evident and absolutely normal. The ideology behind our value systems has been cultivated in the timeless debate of nature versus nurture. The environment that we have been raised within as young children most certainly cultivates our lives as we evolve and grow into adulthood. This is where and when our values were cultivated. The roots and foundation are grown and poured to help us build our own unique personal values. There is a cumulative effect of exposure albeit either positively or negatively as we further develop our own values into principles.
Once we can identify what true morals, principles, and values are, we can place the purpose of them into the context of personal, organizational, and community environments. Let’s start with the definition of morals.
Morals – A standard of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable, relating to principles or teaching a concept of right or wrong.
Morals can be equally thought of as character. It can be further defined as the “what” we do when nobody's watching us. Our moral compasses and character is what we hold self-evident and display which speaks volumes about our morals. Why do we make the decisions we do? How do we know what is right and what is wrong? We can all agree that lying is wrong yet many of us do this with ease in many different situations. The most egregious lie of all may be to ourselves. By not following our intuitive moral compass we may find ourselves lost and on the wrong path of self-righteousness.
Once we can truly identify what our individual morals are, such as honesty, kindness, and empathy we can build a solid foundation upon leadership principles and styles. “Style refers to the manner and methods that a leader uses to interact with other people, especially those whom they lead and especially when making decisions” (Thiel, A. K., & Jennings, C. R., 2012, p. 196). The morals that we exemplify directly correlates as to the “why” behind our decisions.
So now that we understand the “why” let’s translate the “what and how” into our leadership style. These principles will affect how we practice personal and organizational leadership.
Principles – Rules or laws that one has identified and accepted which governs one’s personal behavior.
Once we can identify the foundational norms, values, and beliefs that represent what is desirable and positive for a person, group, and organization; we can communicate these principles into leadership actions. Such principles as: integrity, tact, bearing, knowledge, and judgement just to name a few of the many; are the “how” we will come to a decision crossroads intertwined with our morals. Hopefully, we can start to see a pattern, a continuum. It is at this crucial intersection that we use our moral compass to guide us and help us find the “true North” of leadership.
As leaders we can begin to outline personal and organizational principles which in turn will develop a system of values to follow. Many people are searching for the Holy Grail of leadership. There is no singular method or equation for quantifying personal or organizational success. There is no magic formula. This is where developing a values/vision statement will help to guide us on the right path. The path of continuous improvement!
Values – Important and lasting beliefs or ideals, shared by the members of a culture, about what is “good or bad” and “desirable or undesirable.”
Values have a major influence upon a person’s behavior and attitude. They serve as broad guidelines in all situations. Such values as: altruism, compassion, diversity, and generosity to simply name a few. This is one part of the aforementioned leadership continuum. This is a non-linear process. Our decisions are not meant to go from East to West or North to South. We as leaders must analyze the impact of our decisions as they pertain to our unique morals, values, and principles. These decisions will not only impact ourselves but will most assuredly impact the organization as a whole.
Often times we may hear that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Many people will opine that it’s either non-existent or extremely low. One way to inspect this challenge is to re-examine the core values within an organization. Do the organizational values align with the values of the people who reside within it? Are the shareholders in concert with the organizational mission statement? If the answer is anything other than yes, it’s time to break out our moral compasses to find our true North, go back to the map to find our original starting point, and retrace our steps.
In closing, I firmly believe that analyzing our morals, principles, and values will help frame and build us as leaders in order to construct our mission statement. Otherwise, how will we know how to make the best decisions? Hopefully, if you have been following me you will have seen my Personal Mission Statement:
“Together WE can lead, encourage, and motivate each other towards seeking continuous improvement while promoting emergency service excellence within ourselves and others one day at a time.”
This mission statement was not developed overnight. The morals, principles, and values that were, and continue to be engrained within me are geared towards seeking continuous improvement in all aspects my personal and professional goals.
I offer you this challenge. Take some time to self-evaluate your own set of morals, principles, and values. Be absolutely honest with yourself. Try to understand who you truly are and the goals you wish to accomplish personally and professionally. Jot these goals down. After sometime, you will recognize that you have plotted the coordinates on the path to success. Guess what.... If you don’t already have a personal mission statement, you’ve just created the scaffolding or blueprints to build one.
I would be humbled and honored to read and or help anyone in this process. If you have a personal mission statement completed already, please send it to me. Post it on social media! Be proud. If you don’t have one, what are you waiting for? There is greatness within you. Simply identify the best version of you and then execute the plan.
Cover Photo Courtesy: Chris Baker
Thiel, A. K., & Jennings, C. R. (2012). Managing fire and emergency services. Washington, D.C.: International City/County Management Association.
John Dixon is a career fire officer with an urban fire department in New Jersey and has over 20 years in the fire service. He has earned his fire officer (FO) credentials from the Center for Public Safety Excellence and is a National Fire Academy Alumni. John has a passion for training, mentoring, and inspiring up-and-coming officers and firefighters. He has served as an Instructor with the Bergen County (NJ) Fire Academy, a member of Project Kill the Flashover, and currently serves as the NJ State Lead Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
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