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Leadership: If You Are Out Front, You Will Be Shot At Often


By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

Leadership looks like a great place to be in, you are always making changes and getting recognition. This is what appears to the novice who wants to be a leader, but in reality, this position is often lonely and filled with negativity and confrontation.

Why be a Leader

If you know the truth of leaders is a position of constant challenges and those around you having some negativity, why would anyone want to be a leader? Leaders take a special care for the bigger picture, for what needs to change versus being happy just floating through life. Personnel in Emergency Management and Emergency Services are often leaders and this is what drew them to the service in the first place, the ability and satisfaction of solving a problem. While many leaders at the top of their organizations do not get the immediate satisfaction of solving a response related issue that many of us started out at, we get the satisfaction of fixing a larger issue that fixes a problem in our organization that can better enable the person fixing the scene related problem or making a big impact on the profession. While these are often not immediate, which is one of the issues we are having with the youngest generation, when you look back, you can see the bigger impact. I worked on the creation of the Company Officers Section of the IAFC. Imagine how well it went over at first to have non-chiefs in a chief’s organization. I can say that many of the true leaders were in great support, but you know the story on many others.

Everyone Likes Change, Yeah right!!

Everyone wants change when asked, especially when an organization is undergoing a change in personnel, especially the CEO position. However, how many are happy with change 6 months after the organization is undergoing change. The leader must understand how to move the culture that facilitates the change without losing the enthusiasm of the workforce. This can be tricky, but requires that the leader understand the politics and relationships that exist within an organization. You may be trying to change the wrong people or relationships and at the end of the day, all you have is more problems than when you began. It is important to have salesmanship when making change so that each person can see what the benefits are to a change in their norm. We all become creatures of habit and until someone shows us an advantage to our change that personally benefits us, we likely have no interest. A great current example is the increased use of SCBA throughout the fire and decontamination after a fire. Not may would tell you that they like to wear the extra 40 lbs. for another hour and come out and be soaked during cold weather, but when you point out that these action decrease the risk of cancer and dying at a young age and even worse, possibly contaminating your loved ones, personnel have a pretty big interest in changing.

Build a Structure of Support          

One of the biggest advantages of any professional association is the networking that exists to help build a group that will help you through the changes. In a recent article I read on leadership, it stated that one of the toughest areas for CEO’s was the loneliness felt at the top. While you may have people around you all day, it may not be a support environment that understands what you are trying to accomplish. Having a professional group of leaders that can become a support network is crucial. The last thing that any leader and change agent wants is to quit at the 5 yard line because they have finally given in to status quo. You will need a list of colleagues that you can call when you have bad days or das when it feels like the organization is not moving as you need it to. Likewise, you should make time to provide that support to others.

Track Progress

The biggest help for any leader is to track the progress regularly. This will at least give the visualization and assurance that you are making progress towards the desired state within the organization. Also track who the changes are affecting and what effect the changes are having on the personnel, as too much change can cause exhaustion and even retaliation if not metered correctly. The smaller and tighter knit the organization, the slower the change may have to occur, as the change will affect a larger group directly or indirectly in the smaller organization. It is also good to review the progress with the personnel regularly so that they can see all that they have accomplished towards the desired state and can take pride in the changes. Be sure to show them the big picture so they can understand where their piece of the change has had an impact.


Do not give up. It is hard, but it is worth it knowing that you resided on earth for your period of time for a reason and that the reason will provide a better organization, profession, service, or other entity at the end of the day.

Randall Hanifen Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.