Leadership 101: Integrity
By Thomas M. Cunningham
US Naval Academy Fire Department
There are various factors that affect a
fire officer’s performance and the effect that these factors play in becoming
a successful leader. Qualities of leadership include:
Of all the qualities a leader must possess,
integrity may be the most important one of them all.
Humor, perspective, and flexibility.
Focus on the achievement of goals that produce
Comprehension of what power and authority
To communicate, listen and persuade.
Knows when to take risk.
Stamina, energy, tenacity, courage, enthusiasm.
Builds morale and can motivate.
Can form or build a coalition.
Is willing to learn
Possesses intelligence, wisdom, and judgment.
Possesses their own vision
Has self-knowledge and confidence.
Integrity, character, and honesty.
Integrity is defined by Webster’s as a
firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values (INCORRUPTIBILITY,)
an unimpaired condition (SOUNDNESS,) and the quality or state of being
complete or undivided (COMPLETENESS.) Types: integrity of character, professional
Synonyms: Honesty & Unity.
Integrity involves the three R’s:
Respect for self; Respect for others; and Responsibility for all your actions.
There is a common theme among experts
who have studied or written about modern leadership. That all leaders must
act with integrity at all times. The first reason for acting with integrity
is that subordinates are constantly observing the lead figure.
A leader is the role model by which the
group that they command is most influenced. Eventually this will lead to
a molding or modeling of the group’s behavior. This is why a leader (fire
officer), must have and maintain the highest standard of character and
integrity whether on or off duty. Integrity of one’s character will consist
of honor, virtue, allegiance, and subordination. Without integrity the
fire officer can never garner the respect and confidence of junior and
senior members within the department.
Individual integrity is never easy,
and is never suppose to be. At most it may be the most difficult of all
personal qualities to hold intact because of its complicated nature and
the multiplicity of it dimensions.
One part of integrity is virtue,
this can be considered the courage that a fire officer must possess as
part of their integrity. This represents one’s “bravery” and the endurance
required to standup against something that is deemed to be wrong, unjust,
corrupt, or dangerous. The rank of a fire officer means little because
there will always be pressures placed upon the fire officer to yield to
influences from someone else’s will as long as they are part of the line
staff of the department. This pressure may come from chief officers, company
officers, civilians, Governmental agencie(s), political figures or social/community
Succumbing to these types of pressures
will eventually lead the fire officer to take shortcuts inorder to accomplish
a goal. Loyalty and trust by superiors and subordinates must be the ultimate
goal for the fire officer rather than shortcuts or “favors” that one might
receive, including possible promotional opportunities.
A fire officer must be a “straight
shooter,” if caught lying to a senior officer(s) then it is an inevitability
that the people under his command will eventually lie to the fire officer.
Lying only infects the honor system that exists in the fire service. This
also breeds deceit, dishonesty, and insincerity among the company and its
members. If allowed to manifest this will cause the firehouse to swarm
like the hive full of agitated bees. Sometimes fire officers have or will
be pushed into a corner by the troops. If pressured the fire officer may
lie in order to get out of a jam, but the ramifications of this will not
only be deep, but also far reaching. Misleading the subordinates to protect
your own skin will eventually return to you ten fold. Lack of trust, lack
of respect, and lack of confidence will eventually lead the fire officer
down the road to self-destruction.
If the officer attempts to “pull the wool”
over a seniors eye’s or if the fire officer works a shady deal in order
to get something accomplished, then those under their command will assume
that this is business as usual. If the organization is based upon absolute
integrity of its officers, then the organization will operate as a fully
functional unit. If the fire officer commits an act that is not necessarily
criminal in nature, or an act that could possibly result in demotion or
expulsion from the department, they must still be reprimanded or punished
in accordance with the departments prescribed procedures. If no gauge for
reprimand has ever been used, then the punishing officials can refer to
the “Douglas Factors” as guidance for the initiation of punishment.
Other individuals who become aware of the
incident will be adversely affected if no action is taken, thus the moral
fabric of the department will be damaged. At some point everyone will break
a rule or regulation, as this is only human by nature. The failure must
be evaluated on whether it was intentional or unintentional and the punishment
should be dealt out accordingly. But, if the fire officer fails as a person
or as a representative of the department and then fails to admit mistakes
or guilt, then they must be removed from their position. This is a distinction
that must be maintained in all disciplinary actions within the department.
And what about time spent away from
the fire station. The question is “am I, as a fire officer, required
to abide to the same rules that govern me at work? In some departments
even off duty you are a representative of the department and in reality
we all are. But there are cases when someone steps beyond the norm or moral
code of the department when off duty and they believe that this will not
affect their employment status. Many in the fire service are unable to
keep their homelife together, does this reflect upon there integrity? In
some cases, yes it will affect the way senior department members and subordinates
judge the fire officer concerning the way they are viewed. Basically if
the fire officer cannot get a grip on the conditions, which they live,
how can they handle the conditions, which they must perform and work in.
"No one can be happy who has been
thrust outside the pale of truth. And there are two ways that one can be
removed from this realm: by lying, or by being lied to."
Roman philosopher and writer
How does someone develop integrity as part
of his or her character? Were does integrity come from? The quality of
integrity is not a trait that we are born with, rather it is “learned”
as we go through life. Not all (great) leaders come from backgrounds that
would indicate their level of integrity either, instead, during the process
of learning, integrity of the individual is developed. As with fingerprints,
no two people have the exact value system that we live by. Within the fire
service as in the law enforcement community or the military, we find others
with whom we have similar values. But, no two people have the same level
of integrity even though we share common ideologies. So how does someone
live by a code of conduct and standards? How does a sense of obligation
develop towards others, the community, community groups, the fire service,
and our country develop?
This process of integrity begins when we
are very young, usually taught by our parents, grandparents, neighbors,
teachers, and other children whom we may have contact with. This process
can also be taught by reading or by the watching of certain television
programming. The process by which we develop integrity is also dependent
upon our reception senses as well. How many times have we heard of families
who were the cornerstone of integrity and wholesome living in the community,
only to have a child who turned out to be the complete opposite, otherwise
known as “the demon seed?” In defense of that example the reverse can be
true as well, there have been some who come from families that have lacked
integrity only to have a child who possesses a high level of integrity.
While this does not happen often, it does happen.
Development of integrity depends solely
upon the moral fabric of the individual.
There are four ingredients that make
up the foundation for someone’s integrity. Without these factors joining
combining together either the individuals foundation will be weak, or it
will eventually crumble and disintegrate. These ingredients include:
1. Receptive Ability: Can the fire officer
listen to other’s ideas or directions? Failure as an officer occurs when
one acts as an authoritarian leader. This person dominates and to a certain
extent possesses a certain degree of arrogance that is above the norm.
2. Flexibility: Are you, the fire officer
a risk taker? Can you think outside the box? Do you have an active imagination
that allows for alternative ways or ideas to be used in accomplishing the
departments mission or goals? Fire officers fail when they become rigid
or unbending in their way of operating or their beliefs? These are the
type of officers who carry the old timers attitude or simply state, “We
can’t do that because we have always done it this way?”
3. Humility: Can the officer put the organizations
concerns ahead of your personnel interest? Or does the officer put a premium
on their personnel image (glitter & gold syndrome), and do they remember
were they come from? If title, image, and being the center of attention
appeal more to you, than humility is one quality they do not possess.
4. Compassion: Can the officer bring himself
or herself to reconcile a difference with a member of the company or department?
Can they be nice to fellow firefighters and express compassion and mercy
to the people to whom we provide service?
But what does integrity really mean?
Self-respect: The fire officer must first
start by liking him or herself. If they are unhappy with who they are,
they will be unable to show someone under their command compassion or understanding.
Having self-respect for yourself will be noticed by those around you and
will be appreciated. The perception of you (as a fire officer) can always
be enhanced, updated and improved. It will all depend upon factors such
as willingness, motivation, and career goals that you wish to accomplish.
Loyalty to the department’s vision and
mission: As a fire officer you must first realize that without loyalty
to the department and its mission your performance cannot make the department
fully successful. Great strategy and innovation is not a guarantee for
success, the core to success is the employee, and if you are not willing
to commit yourself to the department then you are a glitch in the system.
The ranks of successful companies are filled with hardworking, dedicated,
skilled, honest and faithful employees like you.
Honesty to yourself and others: Officers
must always conduct themselves with the utmost of honesty at all times.
Firefighters look up to the fire officer as an example of leadership and
guidance. One way to ensure that your integrity as a fire officer is intact
is to always tell the truth. By telling the truth you will never have to
worry about being caught up in a lie or trying to remember just what you
had said. Lying will only lower your self worth in the mind of subordinates,
superiors, or worst yet the public. Sometimes telling the truth will not
make people happy, or make you the winner of a popularity contest. In some
cases you may suffer from “loss of grace” for telling the truth, or for
standing up for what is right. But as an adult we find out that this is
life, and you can’t please everyone all the time. But being caught in a
lie means there will be a much greater need for damage control in the end.
How many employees in the fire service
can state with honesty that they can trust every employee in the department’s
officer corps? Within the fire service there are probably more supervisors
and managers that a subordinate can place their faith and trust in than
in other workforce professions. This can be mainly contributed to the nature
of our business, which is to help and serve others, including our own.
This type of person eventually becomes a leader with a quality inbred within
their skills when they ascend as an officer. But there are some in our
profession that you should never turn your back on and this is true in
every profession as well.
One way to avoid the integrity pitfall
is by retaining the quality that appears to be the most important, trust.
Once a subordinate or supervisor loses the ability to put their trust in
the fire officer the only effect that can follow is that of an uncontrollable
vortex that spirals downward. Lack of trust is listed as the number one
problem facing many leaders within the world of corporate or governmental
business today, including the fire service. Take a look at Enron, WorldCom,
Arthur Anderson, representatives of the House and Senate, sports athletes,
and celebrities. These are only a few examples of leaders who have failed
the integrity test. This has been accomplished through lying, deceit, and
greed. Is the fire service exempt, no! Just look at the D.C. Fire Departments
debacle that is still ongoing with its recently past chief.
Untrustworthy leadership is not new thing,
in fact it has been prevalent since the creation of dawn. But inorder to
lead an effective and efficient customer service like the fire department
we cannot allow ourselves to reward questionable behavior.
Some recent studies have shown why trust
has diminished and cynicism has risen:
a. 74% stated that they would steal from
someone who would not miss it.
b. 76% of honor students in 1996 stated
that they have cheated academically at some point during there studies.
c. 85% stated that honest and ethical
management was important to the health of the organization.
d. 40% stated that honesty and ethical
management was present in the organization that they are presently employed
e. 75% of employees have observed unethical
workplace conduct within the last year, of the conduct observed were deceptive
practices, unsafe working conditions, and the mishandling of information.
f. Employee satisfaction falls to 21%
when upper management failed to deal with a supervisor accused of unethical
g. Most all respondents of the survey
consider themselves suspicious of their managers.
" To educate a man in mind but not in
morals is to educate a menace to society." `
Just because we are the emergency service
known as the Fire Department, doesn’t necessarily mean that employee’s
don’t expect from our leaders what others in the professional workforce
expect from their supervisors. A survey conducted in New York (2001) listed
the top ten skills that a supervisor should have:
1. 97% of employees want supervisors who
can be trusted, to make honest decisions that are value based and who understand
the consequences of violating organizational beliefs and policies.
2. 94% of employees want supervisors who
can work with others.
3. 93% of employees consider hygiene or
personnel appearance (clean clothes/uniform, washed and styled hair, clean
teeth, etc.) of importance.
4. 88% of employees want supervisors who
can communicate such as receiving, interpreting and responding appropriately
using the correct verbal communication. That managers understand body language
and also comprehend evaluates and supports the speaker.
5. 87% wants supervisors who demonstrate
understanding, are adaptable, show empathy, and politeness to others.
6. 85% of employees want supervisors who
show a high level of effort plus perseverance towards goal attainment.
This helps employees achieve excellence when tasked with undesirable or
unpleasant work assignments.
7. 83% want supervisors to show self-worth
and have a positive image of themselves. Also increases supervisor’s knowledge
8. 82% believe it is important for supervisors
to communicate through writing, records information and the accuracy of
9. 81% want managers to organize ideas
and who speak clearly. Appropriate communications to listeners in the correct
situations or settings. Participates in groups settings and will ask questions
10. 80% believe appropriate behavior should
be a trademark when dealing with others.
The most important figure in this survey
was also the number one answer, trust and honesty (someone’s integrity)
meant the most to employees, and I venture to say that higher level managers
would feel the same if asked about lower level supervisors.
a. In order to meet the goals and mission
of the department, fire officers should deliver clear and concise messages
to the firefighters. Many times verbal or written instructions are received
differently and the end result is the placing of blame upon one another
as to why the goal or mission was never attained.
b. Fire service managers must be willing
to deal with those under their command who act unethically. Failure to
do so will result in loss of integrity by the fire officer.
c. Fire officers must be vigilant and remember
that there is a constant threat to their integrity. Compromised integrity
will only lead to defeat.
d. As a fire officer, never make promises
to subordinates or superiors that a task or goal will be accomplished or
met if you know it cannot, no matter how minor the assignment is. This
can only help to reinforce among the parties involved that trust within
the system is either damaged or broken.
Many of todays fire chief’s compromise
their integrity when they must take on and act out the wishes of city managers
or Mayors, even if the chief was a person of the highest moral fabric before
assuming the chiefs position.
Accepting the position as fire chief means
that you (may) have to hold the corporate line inorder to continue your
employment status. If the city fathers want to slash the fire department
budget, cut staffing, or close stations, as the chief of the department
you will be responsible for carrying this directive or manifesto out, no
matter how unpopular it may be. By carrying out such wishes means the fire
chief now has become the scapegoat or whipping boy for city managers. Accepting
these recommendations without any resistance even if you disagree can kill
any integrity that you had spent your whole career to build. Going against
the city managers wishes may mean loss of your job, or a falling out of
favor, or being ostracized by the bureaucrats.
So many fire chiefs have to make many critical
choices in today’s politically filled arenas. The smart chief will either
fight or attempt other ways of convincing the city fathers on the importance
of reversing or at least modifying the decision(s) or plan that they want
to see implemented.
One way to succeed without seeming to
be putting up a fight is by seeking change through accurate and detailed
justification, something many of our fire service leaders either fail or
do not know how to do.
Then there is the puppet chief, who will
go about granting the city fathers every wish, even though the chief knows
that it is not the right thing to do for the department or the community.
The puppet chief will also never have anything new to report on even if
the department or service provided by them is not sufficient or may be
falling apart. They will always report that the department is doing fine
and there are no problems. Is there a simple answer on what to do? No.
The fire chief must do what they feel is right. If the chief does not then
they can continue to wear the pretty uniform with all its glitter and gold,
drive around in their new Crown Victoria and continue to play the part
of the pawn. Remember the pawn takes all the heat for the decisions of
the city fathers. In the end the only person that will be adversely affected
is the fire chief.
Integrity is the most important of all
qualities that a fire service leader must possess. To view everyone and
the relationships that they have, how they conduct their lives, and see
them as not just a number to provide staffing. This will enhance the productivity
that all managers hope for. It is easier to keep ones integrity than to
recover it. Firefighters and fire chiefs can see a phony, and whether they
have respect for others around them.
The fire officer who is fair in all their
dealings will garner not only respect but also responsibility. Not being
able to rise above prejudices will lead to failure. Being a prisoner to
peer pressure, modus operandi, useless traditions or conventional rules
will eventually lead to the loss of integrity. To see far beyond ones environment,
to use proper ways and means, and to bring a task to a desirable end is
the true sign of an effective leader. To discount exterior pressures is
what separates leaders from followers.
"Integrity without knowledge is weak and
useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful."
About the author:
Thomas M. Cunningham is a 15-year veteran
of the United States Naval Academy Fire Department in Annapolis Maryland.
He is a NFPA certified Fire Officer IV, Instructor III, Inspector II, Investigator,
Safety Officer, and Hazmat IC. He is currently completing Bachelor degree
studies in Fire Administration at Western Illinois University. He is currently
employed as an instructor with the Command School, Inc. He also serves
as the NFAAA MD. state coordinator.