The Sword

As I quoted Musashi recently, a warrior must “have a taste for both pen and sword”. And while there is a frequent need for statesmanship, the soft skills are sometimes not fully appreciated unless you can bring some smackdown to the table when pushed. There is a very good reason why I don’t discuss the other aspect of leadership as much. The reason is because too many of us are familiar with that side of the house and frankly, too willing to lay it out there when things go wrong. There is a much more stringent call to educate disciples of enlightened leadership on the discipline of using the stick only when and where it is needed.

Clausewitz suggests famously, that prior to waging war, we must fully understand how we intend to wage war and to what extent we will go to achieve victory. A scorched earth mentality is fine for truly epic battles of wrong vs. right but you will eventually have to live with the outcome. If you choose to lay waste to someone’s career because they got on your wrong side, you must realize the consequences of that decision and as said before, use the power you have to help others, not to hurt them.

I would like to believe that extraordinary leadership will help you retain whatever role you have in your world, but the realities don’t always favor that outcome. Therefore, you must always consider that leadership is dangerous ground. Someone, someplace, is going to perceive that your victory is their loss, and they are going to want to defend their territory. You must be prepared to not lose, or know when not to engage so that you can live on for another fight. Leading is not for the faint of heart.

A non-combatant leader must have some sort of a “sword” in order to be truly effective. The prospect of dealing with adversaries can be likened to dealing with any other belligerent and while physical conflict isn’t an option, the strategies needed to survive even these kinds of battle require similar tactics. Therefore, to succeed, you too must also cultivate your “weapons of war”.

In the business of leading others, that sword is often your reputation and your ability to make things happen, which is often the outward manifestation of political clout. While the politics could be those of the community or your internal organizational politics, if you have none at all, let’s see how things fare for you the first time you do something unpopular and your adversaries decide they’re going after your head. You’d better start off by having ground to fight for.

You can achieve political power in a number of different ways, but the one that is most utilized by ethical leaders and especially by those who are seeking to develop power (in the absence of having legitimate power) can be through networking. The more allies you have in your corner, the less likely that someone with a beef is going to pick a fight. And when they do, it’s nice to know you have backup. Where can you obtain these kinds of friends? You can get involved in local nonprofits, you can volunteer to take on less than desirable projects that will help the organization along, you can teach, or you can get involved in public outreach for ypur organization. In all of these cases, you get out and get seen as a face for the organization and people begin to recognize you as a doer.

When you lead, you are often alone at the front of the pack. Being alone and in front means you are a visible target as well. And when things meet resistance, or trouble is found along the way, the leader is the one who has to deal with it first. But knowing there is a pack behind you gives you strength and courage. It makes you realize there are people to fight for. And most of all, it is those individuals, who are in your corner, who cheer you on and remind you that you are indeed fighting the good fight.

Enlightened leadership requires open-mindedness. But while you can be receptive to others, others will only be receptive to you if you have something they want. The power you have is in your sword, the power of your team and the others who know you and support you. It is up to you to use it wisely.

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  • Jon Marsh

    Chief Mick Mayers writes in a fashion & style that provides his readers and/or students a soothing, satisfying understanding in the who, what, where, why, and how of leadership. Each feature on Firehouse Zen is a lesson packed full of experience & life’s adventures that apply not only to firefighters, but to all who have the desire to lead, or, to all who desire to understand the difficult position of those who are leaders! Chief Mayers I extend my continued admiration of your vision-past, present, and future.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Recent Posts
Blood On Our Hands December 21, 2014
Career Change December 13, 2014
Think Fast November 29, 2014
Mick Mayers
Someone I Would Have Liked To Have Known
Ruth, Thanks for the comment, although like Tom said, you missed my point. What I was saying is that I am honored and impressed that someone who not so long ago would not have been given a chance - for reasons of race and gender- was given those accolades. She is someone I would have…
2014-12-12 11:24:00
Tom Bouthillet
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There are plenty of white males who don't deserve to be firefighters. The most qualified individual should get the job regardless of race or gender. That doesn't always happen for a variety of reasons that don't need to be hashed out here. But way to miss Chief Mayers' point entirely.
2014-12-11 12:08:00
Ruth Phillips
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I've heard of all of these "substandard candidates brought in to fill a role" taking the jobs from those who truly "desire the job and are willing to embrace the lifestyle of a firefighter." Do you mean people of color and women taking the jobs from the more deserving, uh, white male? I'm baffled as…
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My best friend once described flying in 'hard' IFR like being inside a giant ping-pong ball... everywhere you look, featureless white. I've appropriated that to describe people who seem to go through life in their own personal ping-pong balls. Apropos of the bumper sticker "I can't see you so don't pretend to be there."
2014-12-09 04:21:00
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George, Thanks for reading! Yes, I'll actually do that this week. And I actually downloaded that same meme myself a few days ago- I like it.
2014-12-06 15:25:00
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