The Importance of Servant Leadership in the Fire Service & How To Foster It As A Newly Promoted Officer

Leadership does not mean one thing. There are so many leadership styles and techniques out there that claim to be the best. One such style is servant leadership, a leadership style someone considering firefighter promotion should be familiar with and aspire to embody as they chase their leadership goals. 

Servant Leadership Explained

The name servant leadership may be a turn off for many people looking to promote in the fire service. This is simply because of the word servant.  So many people become leaders, in every profession, because they are after the power and control involved, not the growth of those they lead. A true leader however, knows that what matters most is those they are leading and mentoring. Servant leadership is defined as, “a leadership style that prioritizes the growth, well-being, and empowerment of employees.” Servant leadership focuses on the people versus the big picture, so a servant leader in the fire service focuses on the interns and the firefighters as individuals over the organization. This is because they know the people matter, because they are the future leaders and if the people are successful the company as a whole will be as well. You serve the firefighters and they in turn will serve the fire service. 

How To Embody the Servant Leadership Style

  1. Put People First

The number one thing a servant leader does to be characterized as such is put people first. They put people first even before the company you work for. You prioritize your people above your own work. If they need your help or support you are there. You truly see those you lead as being the most important part of your job because you know their value and worth. Servant leaders understand they are nothing without the people under them. Servant leadership is about knowing the value of a relationship. The relationship with the fire fighters they lead is critical to this type of leader.

  1. Have Compassion

Another characteristic of a servant leader is they are extremely compassionate. They are able to empathize and understand everyone is just human and doing their best. They understand everyone is significant and plays a key role in the fire service and deserves compassion over punishment. This happens because they are naturally self-compassionate people. They treat themselves kindly, with a lot of positive self-talk. They learn from mistakes instead of beating themselves up when something goes wrong. They then take these values they have within themselves and treat others in the same manner without even trying. For some this will need to be learned but for others it comes naturally. 

  1. Always Looking to the Future

The servant leader is very goal oriented and always looking at each individual and their role in future fire service endeavors. They will look at the new intern on his first day at the station and see a future for him. They will be compassionate as they make mistakes and show them how to do things right, instead of belittling and laughing at them. They are always looking ahead by constantly teaching and encouraging learning and supporting each individual's intellectual growth. They have big goals for each and every member of their crew from the first time they meet. 

  1. Accept Honest Feedback

A servant leader lives to serve, and is always open to feedback especially from those they are in charge of. A servant leader understands the importance of this feedback because they are always trying to grow and be better as well. They understand there is no one better to learn from than those they lead. A back and forth dialogue on growth between a leader and their people means there is a healthy trusting relationship present that is beneficial for all. 

  1. Work As A Team

Servant leadership is all about teamwork. A servant leader does not sit at their desk and demand things be done. They are constantly getting in the nitty gritty and do the dirty work with you, to guide and support as needed. Them being present does not mean they don’t trust the job can get done without them, they just want the fire fighter to know they are never alone and are supported fully.

The Takeaway

Don’t let the word servant scare you away from being someone that is a servant leader. Servant leadership is all about the growth of those you lead and providing them a nurturing safe environment to reach their full fire fighting potential through compassion and support. Putting your firefighters first helps them grow as well as the fire service.