3 simple steps to become a more decisive and respected fire service leader

Do your homework, weigh your options, make the right decision and use these communication tactics to avoid undermining your implementation effort

By Alex Ford

As the leader of an organization – whether it’s a fire department, association or company – you’re always communicating. Sometimes that may be internally with your entire staff as a group or in a one-on-one meeting. Or, it might be externally to a board or city council. The medium might be in person, via phone or electronic.

Across all of these, your ability to message and deliver information with strength and authority is critical to your success of as a leader and your organization’s ability to execute its mission. Try these three simple steps to become a more decisive and respected leader.

Step 1: During the next week, monitor your communication closely with both groups and individuals. Count or be cognizant of how many times you use terms that indicate vagueness or uncertainly. Keep an eye out for the following and you’ll be surprised at how much often they appear in your communication:

  • “I think…”
  • “I believe…”
  • “It seems…”
  • “Probably…”
  • “Maybe…”
  • “It should…”
  • “It might…”
  • Finally, watch out for credibility killers such as “Um”, “Like”, “Right?” and “Ah”.

Step 2: Start eliminating these phrases in your communication unless you strategically want to convey uncertainty or hedge your messaging or commitment. Uncertainty is appropriate in a brainstorm or addressing a sensitive such as a personnel issue but otherwise creates doubt. In particular, focus on being more decisive in situations in which you’re giving feedback, summarizing statistics, evaluating performance or setting direction even if you may not be sure. As a leader, you don’t “think” someone did a good job, they either did or did not. Eliminating uncertainty allows you to be concise and direct and directly increase respect and authority.

An example:  

Uncertain messaging – “For the next month, I think the best area of improvement for our department should be response time.”

Certain messaging – “It is critical that we improve our response time and it will be our area of focus for the next month.”

Step 3: As you eliminate uncertainty, insert calculated pauses after your statements to let your message sink in. Be sure not to insert fillers like ‘Um,’ ‘Right?’ or ‘ah.’ As a confident communicator, be comfortable with a pause or silence after important statements to make sure your audience hears and internalizes your message.

Of course, confident communication cannot mask a lack of knowledge. Confidently communicating an erroneous message will greatly damage your ability to lead. Do your homework, weigh your options and make the right decision.

Overall, uncertainty, doubt and questioning are realities we face as balanced and thoughtful leaders, but to inspire and lead there should be no doubt, no hesitation, and no questions about where you want to go or how you want to get there. Want to get there faster? A good place to start is by evaluating your communication.

About the author

Alex Ford is the CEO of the Praetorian Group and FireRescue1. He’s spent the past 15 years building Praetorian into the leading digital media company in the public safety and local government market worldwide. He’s built a network of more than 1.1 million first responders representing 75,000 agencies and leads a team consisting of 65 employees and more than 150 contributors.

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