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July 11, 2004
Take a hint from General MacArthur
By Chief Ronald Richards
The fire service is a para-military organization. From our mission to our chain of command we are "first cousins" to the military.

It has often been said that we have many people in our ranks that are truly sharp at the task level, great in strategy and tactics, but lack real leadership skills. The real leader in our business, career or volunteer, is one who can see far beyond the horizon. A leader in today's fire service needs to have life experience, not just that gained on the fireground.

Have you ever interviewed for a job, thinking that you had a lock on the position only to become disappointed that another candidate got the slot? Your first reaction.... "How did he get the job? I have more time in. He can't even spell fire....."  Maybe that's the problem. While you were so focussed on  strategy and tactics issues or spending time riding the seat of the wagon, the other guy was sharpening those skills he knew he'd need to be a true leader.

John Gardner, in his book On Leadership described Douglas MacArthur as a brilliant strategist, a farsighted administrator, and flamboyant to his fingertips. MacArthur developed a list of quotes and questions and to guide him in his leadership duties. These principles can be applied to any leadership situation. 

  • Do I heckle my subordinates or strengthen and encourage them? 
  • The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself.
  • Do I use moral courage in getting rid of subordinates who have proven themselves beyond doubt to be unfit? 
  • Have I done all in my power by encouragement, incentive and spur to salvage the weak and erring? 
  • Nine times of ten an army has been destroyed because its supply lines have been severed
  • To dilute the will to win is to destroy the purpose of the game. There is no substitute for victory.
  • Do I know by NAME and CHARACTER a maximum number of subordinates for whom I am responsible? Do I know them intimately? 
  • Am I thoroughly familiar with the technique, necessities, objectives and administration of my job? 
  • A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.
  • Do I act in such a way as to make my subordinates WANT to follow me? 
  • Do I delegate tasks that should be mine? 
  • Do I arrogate everything to myself and delegate nothing? 
  • Do I develop my subordinates by placing on each one as much responsibility as he can stand? 
  • Am I interested in the personal welfare of each of my subordinates, as if he were a member of my family? 
  • Have I the calmness of voice and manner to inspire confidence, or am I inclined to irascibility and excitability? 
  • Am I a constant example to my subordinates in character, dress, deportment and courtesy? 
  • Am I inclined to be nice to my superiors and mean to my subordinates? 
  • Do I lose my temper at individuals? 
  • Is my door open to my subordinates? 
  • Do I think more of POSITION than JOB? 
  • Do I correct a subordinate in front of others?
  •  Source: The West Point Way of Leadership by Col. Larry R. Donnithorne (Ret.) 

About the author: Chief Ronald Richards has over 28 years of fire service experience, both career and volunteer. He rose through the ranks in the Forest City Fire Department, in Forest City, PA and became Fire Chief in 1995 holding that position through 2000 when he retired. He currently serves as the Chief for Training and Safety for Browndale Fire Company in Wayne County, PA. Chief Richards has nearly 25 years of service with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, having served as a Fire Marshal with the Department of Public Welfare, a Fire and Safety Specialist with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Currently, he is a Superintendent Assistant  within the PA Department of Corrections, responsible for media relations, litigation coordination, accreditation, and the writing of policies and procedures. Chief Richards graduated from the State University of New York with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Service Administration.  Richards is a PA State Fire Instructor and an instructor with Command School.  He is the founder of 
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