Both Taiwan and England prepare their respective fire officers for a career in the fire service differently. (Images by Pixabay.)
By John Moschella
Leadership has as many facets as does the individual leader. Whether establishing a clear vision for the organization or providing knowledge in the attempt to realize that vision, a leader, whether mayor, CEO, or fire chief, is integral to its success. All organizations, both private and public, must have such leaders.
Pose the question, “What is leadership?” and one will be confronted with a multitude of definitions. One only needs to search the term on the Internet to see the abundance of sources available. Carter and Rausch (1998) write that leadership has as many definitions as there are people who have attempted to define the concept. The same goes for what is effective leadership and what constitutes a successful leader. Regardless of the organization, leadership must take on a particular style depending on a multitude of variables, such as the type of profession, membership, and its function. Consequently, the leader, depending on the organization, might have to assume different roles in different times for different purposes. The idea here is that there is simply not one default leadership style. This paradigm can also be applied to the fire service but in a more defined way.
Because the nature of the fire service varies from emergency operations to administrative, it would seem that several different leadership styles would be necessary to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of a fire department. As the literature will illustrate, there exists a plethora of publications dealing with leadership and leadership styles. The greater issue or problem, especially in the fire service where different types of leadership styles may be warranted in different situations, is whether chief officers can even correctly identify their particular leadership style. The issue is that although numerous publications identify the type of leadership style a chief fire officer should be, seldom do such chiefs even understand or recognize leadership styles, not to mention their leadership style. Specific to this research, the purpose here is to examine how selected chief fire officers in Taiwan and England accurately identify their own leadership styles. Why England and Taiwan? First is simply an issue of convenient sampling. I could secure assistance from two chief fire officers in both countries who could distribute a survey to chief officers. Second, both countries exercise different avenues to promotion.
In England, like the United States, fire personnel seeking promotion generally take examinations or participate in an assessment center. On the other hand, unlike the fire service, but much like the military here in the United States, fire personnel in Taiwan first obtain a fire-related degree at a college and then are assigned to a fire department as an officer (Moschella and Chou, 1994).
There are many questions to be answered in a research project such as this one, but only two are the focus of attention. First, to what extent do chief fire officers in Taiwan accurately identify their own leadership style? Similarly, the second question mirrors the first, asking to what extent do chief fire officers in England accurately identify their own leadership style? Answering both questions will not only present a more focused picture of what chief fire officers in both countries identify as their particular leadership style but also will help to form the foundation to better prepare future fire chiefs. To accomplish this task involves careful consideration of the various leadership styles found in the literature, which are specifically related to the fire service.
BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCE
There are numerous courses, publications, and seminars dedicated to leadership in the fire service as well as outside the profession. In fact, as in the case of any organization, whether public or private, there is no doubt that leadership is an integral part of an organization’s success. As will be seen, publications are quick to instruct, advise, or suggest the leadership style a fire officer should adopt. Advice such as this is, of course, important to one becoming an effective leader, but the question remains to what extent do chief fire officers actually correctly identify their particular style? One way to examine this is from the perspective of education.
Both Taiwan and England prepare their respective fire officers for a career in the fire service differently. Similar to the United States, England employs a single-tier system of entry and promotion within the fire service - that is, firefighters enter the profession as privates then through an evaluation process are promoted through higher ranks to eventually chief officer.
In Taiwan, candidates for the officer ranks in the fire service attend college and are awarded an undergraduate degree in fire science. After commencement, applicants apply to various fire departments for employment and enter the particular department as an officer.
The significance of this research may not be apparent at first glance. A simple understanding of the various types of leadership styles might be considered enough for the future or even present chief officers. One could learn the styles and choose the one that best fits, but does this adaptive approach deny, challenge, or even compromise the existence of one’s existing leadership style? This research will identify three topics: First, it will identify the chosen leadership style of chief fire officers from two different countries who represent different cultures and educational backgrounds. Second, it will test the accuracy of that choice. Third, it will survey each officer’s belief as to his most important leadership characteristics.
Collectively, this research will represent a beginning as to understanding what leadership styles are most common among chief fire officers in what may be considered two very diverse cultures with different avenues of promotion. Perhaps more important, it will represent a launching point for continued research in leadership, not so much for what should be but what is.
The methodology for this research is descriptive. Although the research resembles casual comparative methodology, since it falls short of attempting to determine the reasons or causes for such preexisting differences among the selected groups, the choice of descriptive is better suited for this project.
Relative to validity, the selection process to choose leadership styles, which are most related to the fire profession, was challenging and subjective. Two distinct decisions were made. First, the research of Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), a German psychologist and the father of modern psychology, was critical in identifying appropriate leadership styles. From his research, Lewin (1939) identified three particular styles that were incorporated in this research: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire.
The authoritarian (autocratic) leadership can best be identified by the following characteristics:
- Provide clear expectations for what needs to be done, when it should be done, and how it should be done.
- Clear division between the leader and followers.
- Make decisions independently with little or no input from the rest of the group.
The democratic (participative) leadership style is characterized accordingly:
- Offer guidance to group members but also participate in the group and allow input from other group members.
- Encourage group members to participate, but retain the final say over the decision-making process.
- Group members feel engaged in the process and are more motivated and creative.
The laissez-faire (democratic) leadership style is characterized thus:
- Leaders offer little or no guidance to group members and leave decision making up to group members.
- Style can be effective in situations where group members are highly qualified in an area of expertise
The last style selected was the heroic leadership style. This choice was based more on the public view of the fire service rather than any research. Society and even literature portray fire personnel as heroes, risking their lives for the safety of the people they serve. For an engaging treatment of risk taking, see Clark’s (2015) chapter entitled, “The Firefighter’s Genes: Fast/Close/Wet/Risk/Injury/Death.” It may be argued that this “culture” becomes, over time, ingrained in the minds of fire personnel as well as the public.
The characteristics of heroic leadership are generally characterized accordingly:
- Belief that he or she can do everything better than anyone else.
- Creates unnecessary dependencies between leaders and team members
- Lead by example.
Questions were taken from an existing leadership survey, incorporating Lewin’s three styles, and sent out to chief fire officers in both countries. In addition, several heroic questions were included to complete the survey. Note that the survey distributed in Taiwan was translated into Chinese (Taiwanese) to ensure that all questions would be correctly understood. Survey results were then translated back into English. The breakdown of the 18 survey questions were as follows: six heroic style, two authoritarian, four participative, three laissez-faire, three outliers.
The last question was for the survey participant to select the particular leadership style which best fit him. Initially completing the 18-question survey, then selecting a personal leadership style, helped to eliminate any bias in attempting to fit or force a style to one’s self-identity of the style each might think one possesses. (See sidebar).
One of the last questions posed to those surveyed was for each to choose the five most important leadership qualities in a fire chief. The question was open ended; fill in the blanks. There were no guidelines or suggestions.
Limitations and Delimitations
Any research relative to the fire service would be most complete if it included the departments in the United States. Of course, with more than 13,000 departments in this country, it is virtually impossible to survey each chief fire officer. This was not the case in Taiwan and England where, as noted above, chief fire officers are less numerous and volunteered their time to this researcher.
For this research, only chief fire officers were surveyed. The greater task here was to limit the choice of leadership styles, specific to the fire service. The intent of this research, by virtue of the survey, was to be more specific by using Lewin’s three different leadership styles with the addition of heroic to identify the respondents’ association with a particular style.
SELECTED LITERATURE REVIEW
Any attempt to completely investigate the leadership literature in print would be impossible. This literature review is specific to publications in fire-related leadership. The objective here is not to exhaust the sources, as is generally the aim of a literature review. Rather, its objective is to enlighten the reader to two points: First, that authors tend to inform and advise as to selected leadership styles, and second that there is little or no research conducted relative to leadership styles of fire personnel, especially in the two countries investigated in this research.
Generally, any discussion relative to leadership styles includes two predominant types: transformational and transactional. All leadership styles incorporate some form of either, especially in the fire service where an effective chief might employ both, depending on the situation. Transactional leadership is dependent on the leader’s power: power to reinforce his subordinates for completion of a specific task, power to reward, and power to punish. Transformational leadership is based on motivating and inspiring subordinates to address issues. Where transactional leaders aspire to have a task completed by subordinates, transformational leaders desire subordinates to move beyond the task (Babou 2008).
The seminal study in any literature review on leadership begins with research conducted by Lewin. Lewin et al. (1939) were the first to identify the three leadership styles of autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. It is their research in this area that forms the groundwork for any discussion on leadership. Moreover, their identified leadership styles remain unchallenged and have been built on and adapted to transformational and transactional leadership types.
Grant and Hoover (1994) appear to look at the big picture relative to leadership in the fire service. They discuss Lewin’s three leadership styles but conclude that the authoritarian leadership style may be useful on the fireground but not in the daily, nonemergency operations and activities (Grant and Hoover, 23). Bass and Bass (2008) write that authoritarian leadership is often presented in negative, often even pejorative terms. The authors do say that its style can be beneficial to a leader in certain situations (i.e., fireground operations.)
Alyn’s (2010) doctoral dissertation examines the relationship between “perceived” leadership style and firefighter organizational commitment. Her chosen leadership styles, transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire (read participative, autocratic, and laissez-faire) showed a positive relationship with respect to the first two and organizational commitment, while the last failed to do so. In other words, firefighters exhibited both transactional and transformational tendencies but not laissez-faire.
In another thesis, Shin’s (2013) research of volunteer fire departments in Oklahoma found that the most prominent leadership style is transformational (participative), second is transactional (autocratic), and laissez-faire leadership was the least common form.
Relative to the heroic leadership style, Burns (1978) divided transformational leadership into four subcategories: intellectual, reform, revolutionary, and heroic, although some authors have inferred that Burns’ description is more close to transactional. Dated research by Frost et al (1983) concluded that the willingness to expose oneself to danger is associated with effective leadership in potentially life-threatening situations. In other words, leading by example is an effective style of leadership, especially during emergency operations. This ably fits with the culture and tradition of the fire service where firefighters are thought of as being heroes (Clark 2015).
Taking a different stance, Marinucci (2009) recognized that there are many styles of leadership and wrote that one cannot simply copy a particular leadership style if it does not fit one’s personality. Rather, a good chief must list the traits of those whom one respects and work to develop one’s own style. Carter (2007) concluded that there are all types of attributes associated with the different leadership styles, especially associated with the fire service. From his research, he identified six related leadership styles: charismatic leadership, situational leadership, contingency leadership, citizen leadership, servant leadership, and the transformational/transactional leadership continuum, all of which possess certain necessary elements for leading in the fire service. In a similar vein, Glick-Smith (2016) contended that there is no right or wrong way to lead and identified several popular leadership styles. She advises to find the style that personally works for the particular situation.
Another author, Chief John Salka (2004), proposed uncovering the leadership within oneself. The author wrote about organizing one’s thoughts in a personal statement “that reflects your leadership vision” (p. 36).
In an International Association of Fire Chiefs’ authored book entitled Fire Service Leadership: Theories and Practices (2008), several fire service leaders expressed their opinions about leadership style. The question posed to experts is: What style of leadership do you believe will be necessary for fire service leaders to interact effectively with the next generation of firefighters? Chief Ron Coleman replied there is no such thing as a style of leadership. Leaders come from two varieties, those who succeed and those who fail (p. 93). In a similar attitude, Dr. Burton Clark stated that style is not the issue, rather the leader must be able to inspire followers to achieve new heights of excellence (p. 93).
An integral part of leadership is the qualities a leader should possess. Part of the survey used in this research was a question to the participants to list the five most important characteristics in a fire chief. This question was posed to gain an idea of what constitutes an effective fire chief. Den Hartog et al. (1999), in their “Global Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Effectiveness” study, listed 22 effective leadership attributes, the most important of which are trustworthiness, dynamism, motivator, decisiveness, and intelligence. A decade later, Feuquay (2010), in a survey of leadership characteristics, found that a substantial proportion of respondents believed that leadership characteristics normally associated with higher ranks - strategic thinking, team development skills, community and government relations, vision of the future, and incident management skills - are also important at lower ranks.
Randy Bruegman’s (2012) work, Advanced Fire Administration, articulated a number of true leadership characteristics: Clarify what you value most, fully commit to what is important, embrace the challenge, paint the big picture, engage others, control what you can, take charge, and tell positive stories (pp. 378-9). Burns (1978) called them end values, which include concepts such as liberty, justice, fairness, and equality, all of which would raise the morality of the leader, the follower, and the organization.
In a recently released dissertation, Buttenschon (2016) interviewed several fire department “leaders” throughout the United States and found five common leadership themes: principles for leadership development competencies, creation of mentor relationships, forms of leadership training, exhibited leadership styles, and evidence of the role of family.
In sum, one can see that the previously referenced published sources do not specifically recommend a particular leadership style but rather identify a variety of styles. The academic sources cited do draw definite assumptions, mainly that transformational leadership (participative) is the leadership style chosen as best and that laissez-faire is the least important to a fire service leader.
The pie charts seen in Figures 1 and 2 indicate the selected leadership styles of chief fire officers in both countries. The numbers are in percentages. The leadership style most chiefs identified with in both countries was participative, whereas authoritarian was the second highest leadership style chosen in Taiwan while heroic was that second choice among chiefs in England. The Taiwanese listed heroic then laissez-faire to round out the four leadership styles. In England, the two least chosen were laissez-faire followed by authoritarian.
Figure 1 and 2: The most interesting result was that 66.5 percent of Taiwanese chiefs accurately selected their leadership style while only 37.75 percent of United Kingdom chiefs correctly chose their leadership style.
Regarding the particular style of leadership, the majority of chiefs in both countries chose participative (democratic), that is transformational. Furthermore, this choice represented the highest percentage of accurate styles chosen: 46 percent of the Taiwanese chiefs, of which 70 percent were correct, and over half, 52 percent, of which 86 percent of the chiefs from England correctly selected the participative style. This style represented the highest percentages of accuracy for all the leadership styles. The conclusion is that those who selected this type of leadership style understood the characteristics of it.
On the contrary, the least chosen leadership style for the Taiwanese chiefs was laissez-faire, but the least selected style for the English was authoritarian. Only three percent of the chiefs from Taiwan chose laissez-faire as their own style and four percent of the English officers selected authoritarian. The accuracy for both was also low, with 33 percent of the chiefs from Taiwan and 25 percent of those from England being able to correctly identify their respective styles.
With regard to authoritarian and heroic leadership styles, more chiefs in Taiwan chose authoritarian (autocratic) (39 percent) than chiefs in the United Kingdom (four percent). On the contrary, more chiefs in the United Kingdom chose heroic (37 percent) than chiefs in Taiwan (12 percent). Again, it appears that the Taiwanese chief officers had a better understanding of their chosen leadership style, with 84 percent of the Taiwanese correcting selecting the authoritarian style and 79 percent correctly identifying their choice of the heroic leadership style. This was not the case for the English chief officers. Only 25 percent accurately identified their style as authoritarian and 28 percent as heroic.
Figure 3: Pertaining to Figure 3, the upper numbers in each column represent the percentages of chiefs who self-identified that particular leadership style. The lower numbers signify the percentages of chiefs who accurately identified their chosen leadership style. For example, 39 percent of Taiwanese chief officers identified their own leadership style as authoritarian, of which 84 percent were correct as a result of their answers in the survey.
Figure 4: As for the last statement in the survey, one that asks the participant to choose the five most important leadership qualities, there was one common quality - communication - between the two countries. Note that only qualities which garnered at least 25 percent among those surveyed appear below. Qualities gathering less than 25 percent were too numerous to be mentioned here.
- Lead by example (40 percent).
- Professional (25 percent).
- Communication (25 percent).
- Integrity (48 percent).
- Vision (33 percent).
- Honesty (30 percent).
- Communication (26 percent).
Also of interest, although only 12 percent of the chief fire officers from Taiwan selected heroic as their leadership style, “lead by example” is a characteristic of the heroic leadership style and 40 percent of the Taiwanese chief officers considered this trait as important in a chief officer. It was the most popular characteristic chosen by the Taiwanese.
The challenge of this research is problematic. Quantitatively, the data show the varying accuracy of chief fire officers and their leadership styles. This is not refutable. The simple conclusion is that a certain percentage of the chief fire officers cannot accurately identify their leadership style, which leads to the question why?
In Taiwan, where fire officers possess at least an undergraduate degree, 56.25 percent of the chief officers participating in the survey earned a graduate degree. In England, where like the United States there is no educational requirement (local fire department requirements notwithstanding), 58.3 percent of the chiefs surveyed possessed a graduate degree. The closeness of these percentages seems to exclude such education as a factor.
Probably the most obvious conclusion of this research is that chief officers in both countries chose the participative (transformational) leadership style. Moreover, those correctly identifying this leadership style represented the highest percentage of accuracy.
One surprising finding is the prominence of the heroic leadership style among chiefs in England. Although dated (1983), Frost’s research explored the popularity of this leadership style. This “lead by example,” so prevalent throughout English history, one would think might ably fit into the British culture, but the link between British culture and heroism cannot be established nor can the educational influence.
The third part of the survey was for chiefs to list the five most important characteristics a fire chief should have. As stated, there were numerous submissions but only a few attributes gained more than 25 percent from those surveyed. (Revisit the Results Section).
It is interesting to note that “lead by example,” a signature characteristic of heroic leaders and one style of which only 12 percent of Taiwanese identified, was by far the most sought after characteristic of a leader among chiefs in that country. Forty percent of chief officers in the country want a chief who will lead by example, almost twice more than any other characteristic.
Another interesting finding is that one of every four chiefs from both countries surveyed chose communication as an important characteristic of a leader. Further research might explain if this choice results from an inefficacy among present chiefs in both countries or is an existing characteristic among current fire chiefs.
One last note: Demographically, 56 percent of those surveyed in Taiwan possess a graduate degree, while 58 percent of those from England have a master’s degree. The correlational relationship between the education of chief fire officers and their selected leadership style cannot be determined without further surveying each to determine if any took courses in leadership, especially with respect to specific leadership styles, and chose a style as a result.
There appears to be only moderate correlation between the leadership styles with which one identifies and the accuracy of that choice. There is no pattern or tendency to realize aside from the relationship, in some cases, with the existing literature. Nevertheless, two simple conclusions can be made. First, that the participative leadership style is a popular one, and second, that those who identify with this style generally correctly do so.
The obvious void in this research was the omission of data from the United States and other countries. Furthermore, examining the relationship between culture and one’s choice of leadership style is a broad venture and certainly warrants future research. Sociology is rich in examining the effects culture has on an individual - and the fire service is no different. Research into the role culture plays on the fire service is overdue.
A successful emergency organization requires a competent leader, one who understands the various styles of leadership. More important, such a leader must not only be familiar with such leadership styles but be able to correctly identify his particular style, especially considering the need to adopt different styles as the position dictates. The first task begins with one’s ability to accomplish this task for the benefit of the chief, the organization, and the profession.
- Alyn K, “The Relationship between Perceived Leadership Style and Firefighter Organizational Commitment”, Unpublished dissertation abstract, Capella University. 2010, available at ProQuest http://gradworks.umi.com/34/09/3409311.html (assessed 12 August 2016).
- Babou, Transactional Leadership vs. Transformational Leadership, 2008, available at: http://uulead.org/docs/transformational-babou.pdf (accessed 20 July 2016).
- Bass, B. M. and Bass, R, The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, & Managerial Applications, New York: Free Press, 2008.
- Bruegman, R, Advanced Fire Administration, Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson, 2012.
- Burns, J, Leadership, New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1978.
- Buttenschon, M, “Reflective insights from today’s fire service leaders: A narrative inquiry to inform the next generation’s leadership development,” Unpublished dissertation abstract, Northeastern University, 2016, available at ProQuest http://gradworks.umi.com/10/14/10141498.html (assessed 18 August 2016).
- Carter, H. and Rausch, E, Management in the Fire Service, 4th Edition, Quincy, MA: NFPA, 1998.
- Carter, H, “Approaches to leadership: The application of theory to the development of a fire service-specific leadership style”, International Fire Service Journal of Leadership and Management, Vol. 1 No. 1, 2007, 28-37.
- Clark, B, I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying: The American Fire Culture. Nashville, TN: Premium Press America, 2015.
- Den Hartog, D. N., Hanges, P. J., House, R. J., and Ruiz-Quintanella, S. A., “Culturally endorsed implicit leadership theories,” Leadership Quarterly, Vol. 10 No 2, 1999, 219-256.
- Feuquay, J. P., “Professional development leading the next generation study identifies characteristics of & challenges for present & future fire service leaders”, FireRescue, Vol. 28 No. 1, 2010, p. 42. available at: www.firefighternation.com/author/jeffrey-feuquay (accessed 20 July 2016).
- Frost, D., Fiedler, F. and Anderson, J., “The role of personal risk-taking in effective leadership,” Human Relations, Vol.36 No.2, 1983, 185-202.
- Glick-Smith, J, Flow Based Leadership: What the Best Firefighters Can Teach You About Leadership and Making Hard Decisions. Basking Ridge, NJ: Technics Publications, 2016.
- Grant, N. and Hoover, D. Fire Service Administration, Quincy MA: NFPA, 1994.
- International Association of Fire Chiefs, Chief Officer: Principles and Practice, Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2012.
- International Association of Fire Chiefs and Waite, M. R., Fire Service Leadership: Theories and Practices, Sudbury MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2008.
- Lewin, K., Lippit, R. and White, R.K., “Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates,” Journal of Social Psychology, Vol.10, 1939, 271-301.
- Marinucci, R.A., Fire Chief’s Guide to Administration and Management, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2009.
- Moschella, J.M. and Chou, A., “Fire service higher education in the U.S. and Taiwan: A comparison”, Fire Engineering, Vol. 157 No. 11, 2004, 105-112.
- Salka, J., First In, Last Out: Leadership Lessons from the New York Fire Department, New York: Penguin Group, 2004.
- Shin, Y, “The relationship between leadership styles, organizational commitment, and organizational outcome in Oklahoma’s volunteer fire departments,” Unpublished thesis abstract, Oklahoma State University. 2013, available at ProQuest http://gradworks.umi.com/15/42/1542236.html (assessed, 12 August 2016).
- U.S. Army, Military Leadership, Field Manual 22-100. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983.
John Moschella is a 30-year veteran of the fire service and a deputy chief with the Revere (MA) Fire Department. He is a visiting assistant professor at Anna Maria College and a program evaluator for the American Council on Education. Moschella has a master’s degree in fire science and administration from Anna Maria College and a doctor of education degree in educational leadership from Cambridge College. He also has graduate degrees in European intellectual history from Salem State College and German/Jewish history from the University of Kansas. He studied biblical archaeology at Hebrew Union College in Israel and German history at Universität Friedrich Alexander, Erlangen, Germany on a Fulbright. The author of numerous fire-related publications in various journals, Moschella has written on such fire-related topics as sensemaking, e-government, higher education in the fire service, firefighter safety, hazardous materials, building construction, private fire brigades, manhole emergency operations, and OSHA standards compliance. He cowrote the state’s hazardous materials response training program. Moschella has several National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) certifications and is a licensed social studies teacher (grades 7-12) in Massachusetts. He is a National Fire Academy executive fire officer and was the first recipient of the NFPA George D. Miller Award in 2002.
The following are the statements that comprised the survey. Key identifying words appear in red. Note three outlier statements.
- I carefully observe personnel to be sure they are performing tasks properly.
- I instruct my personnel what to do, how to do it, and when I want it done.
- I want personnel to feel involved and relevant in the decision-making process.
- I have the final say over decisions made within my group.
- I consider suggestions made by others in the group.
- I accept input from group members.
- Big decisions should have the approval of the majority of the group.
- I prefer when decisions are made through group consensus.
- I allow personnel to share my leadership power.
- I’m someone whom people trust with private information.
- I get great satisfaction from knowing that I’m the only one who can solve a specific problem.
- It’s hard for me to delegate tasks.
- I’m often the one on whom people depend in a pinch.
- I’m the first one to begin my day at work and the last one to call it quits.
- I lead by example rather than instruction.
- I ask for advice from personnel when things go wrong.
- I am concerned with personnel’s feelings as well as their ideas.
- Being fair is really important to me, to the extent that I’ll solicit input from a wide variety of people to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.