Recently I had a conversation with a young firefighter in a leadership position at a volunteer firehouse.  He was basically stressing himself out by trying to do “everything.”  Since on various occasions I have been asked by my emergency management students to spend some time on leadership, I thought it would be a good time to discuss some of the basics I have learned over the years.

Rule number one is probably the most important, you can’t fix everything!  Those in leadership positions that care the most try to take on the burden and pick up the slack for those who do not care as much.  This goes back to a basic rule, one in which twenty percent of the people usually do eighty percent of the work.  The issue that many good leaders face is that they care about the organization, the people and the mission, and due to how much they hold these things close to their heart, it creates challenges for these good leaders.  A good leader has a difficult time because s/he cannot, and should not, turn off how much they care about the organization and its people and mission.

As I explained to this young leader, the trick that good leaders learn is to do what you can and try not to focus on things that are completely out of your control.  A good leader, and I have had this conversation more than once in the past several months, tries to help those who are doing their best, while tolerating those that seem to merely be along for the ride. A leader does not ignore or avoid the personnel who don’t appear to care, but needs to understand some of the reasoning and tolerate it.  For instance, maybe that member who seems not to care had previously been a twenty percent member and was not treated well by previous leaders, or has worn him or herself out previously trying to do everything themselves.

I explained to him there are several things that good leaders do in order to maintain their personal health and stress levels while accomplishing their goals. First, look at your priorities and that of the organization. Second, create a list of what needs to be fixed to accomplish the priorities. Third, determine what can be fixed from the list.  Fourth, from item three determine what can be fixed easily and quickly.  Fifth, do those items from number four first to accomplish some small victories.  Putting this to an example, I explained to him that I have a list of policies that I need to write.  Finding time to sit down and write a policy in its entirety is almost impossible with my schedule.  Therefore, I make sure I take a minimum of five to ten minutes a day to work on small portions of the current policy I am working on, which allows me to finish a policy once a week.  Each week I am completing one policy and gaining a small victory. 

I will continue to try to address strategies and issues in leadership.  To bring this all together, remember, 1) Good leaders always care about the people and the mission; 2) Good leaders should care the most about those that care and support the mission; 3) Good leaders tolerate those that don’t care as much and understand that there are always things we do not know that may be affecting that person’s ability to care; and 5) Good leaders must know that they cannot be all things to all people and will only hurt themselves and their health if they try to do everything themselves.