It’s that time of the year that we hear the word “presents” often enough to make your ears bleed, so I was wondering if my misuse of the word “presents” got your attention. Apparently it did, or you wouldn’t be reading this now. Or maybe you didn’t notice. If you didn’t notice, go and look again: when we speak of “command presence”, we speak of the characteristics of the person in charge to lead from a strong, visible, and decisive point of view, not “presents” like a gift. Having strong leader-like characteristics as part of your daily personality could be a “present”, if your job is to be a leader. It also could be very annoying to the people around you.
According to my family and friends, acquaintances, and the Myers-Briggs (and every other psych profile I’ve ever gone through), I exhibit decisive, directive behavior as part of my normal personality. More often than I care to, my “command presence” comes out when I’m talking with my wife (she doesn’t like it), my kids (they’re not crazy about it either), or my colleagues (they probably think I’m insufferable anyway). This just goes to show you there is a time and place for everything. Explaining to your daughter the intricacies of math, for one, is probably not a good time to be strong, visible and decisive.
Likewise, when you are leading firefighters into emergency situations, it is not a time to be easy-going, reserved, and willing to compromise. There are those out there who are; they are also the ones with crews free-lancing, poor accountability, mixed commands, and poor coordination. These are also the ones who get people hurt and killed.
While you don’t have to be the second coming of Field Marshal Rommel, you should understand that the fireground or rescue scene is the place where only one person can be in charge. Coupled with the observation that leadership abhors a vacuum, you can probably understand that if you fail to establish a clear picture of who is in charge, someone else will. It’s not the act of having a fist fight to decide who that is; the only person who can be in charge is the legally responsible incident commander. How that decision is made is pertinent to the laws of your jurisdiction, but if you have someone who can’t command, they probably shouldn’t be in that position.
All too often, I see failure in company officers who are “best buds” with their troops on a daily basis, and then can’t understand why there’s so much chaos on their incident scene. It is simply because those people don’t necessarily see you as the “alpha dog”. To them, you are just another “member of the pack”. Other members of the pack don’t call the shots, the alpha dog does. And like I said, if you aren’t filling that role, someone else is. That person will also be the one that when things go south, everyone turns toward for the answers.
In this time of giving, give your subordinates a lesson in leadership. Your leadership should set a positive example, a role model, if you will, for your aspiring officers. Command and control is important on the emergency scene and failing to work with that does not instill confidence in the abilities of the IC. It is essential that not only do your charges see you as a leader on the scene, but in the station as well, for if they do not, on the scene is a bad place for them to convince them of that. Make it a “present” to the people you are responsible for teaching and watching over. Give them the tools to lead others, and they will hopefully show you that they trust your leadership, and when the time comes, they will walk on that path as well.