Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reflections about leadership

I was once asked to define a leader to which I replied, “A leader is someone who can inspire others to go beyond what they normally think they are capable of doing.” Webster’s provide a surprisingly reflective definition; a leader is a person who leads. Well I think we could have guessed that.

Two seemingly unrelated stories in the local news caused me to reflect on leaders and leadership. The first story is the latest incident dealing with Cincinnati firefighters. Two videos have surfaced both shot in what appear to be Cincinnati fire houses. One shows a stripper doing some erotic things with fire equipment, the other is a take-off of a Budweiser “Real American Hero” ad shot in an apparent dispatch room.

Three Cincinnati firefighters have been arrested this year alone, and nearly 60 members of the department have been disciplined since January 2005 for administrative or criminal infractions, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The fire chief and city manager both disapprove of the actions of the firefighters involved with the videos (and other disciplinary issues) but neither really addresses the problem; namely a failure of leadership. None of the firefighters involved in disciplinary issues operated in a vacuum. The fire service is an extremely close-knit community, perhaps even more so than the military. Each of the firefighters who received discipline issues most likely had signs of problems BEFORE their issues made it into the newspaper. Where were the leaders to help their brothers and sisters? The firefighters union made some asinine remark that the firefighters involved in making the videos were not on-duty. What difference does that make? The story is in news and people aren’t going to remember the duty status, they will remember they are firefighters.

The Cincinnati Fire Chief has only made the perfunctory comments about the inappropriateness of the videos but has yet to make any real comments about what is going on in the Cincinnati Fire department. Granted, 60 is a small percentage compared to the total of 841 firefighters on the department but the question remains, where are the leaders?

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, signed with the Seattle Seahawks last week. There was much hand-wringing by some fans as T.J. was the most reliable wide receiver on the team that did not get into the news for shenanigans off the field. T.J. was thought to be a leader by some but I tend to disagree. When the 2008 voluntary weight training session started, T.J. opted to remain in California to do his own training. Leaders are with their teammates and train with them (regardless of it we are talking sports, firefighting or the military). To me, T.J. remaining in California instead of returning to Cincinnati to train was a sure sign that he wasn’t a team leader.

These two unrelated stories make me wonder where the leaders have gone? The country is in one of the worst economic situations in many years. The state, county and Cincinnati are facing similar economic challenges. Leaders are needed to inspire people to do more than they think they are capable of. So far, I’m not seeing a lot of leaders out there.

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