In January and early February, I wrote about the top three complaints I have heard regarding battalion chiefs. Last week, I circled around and began writing about the opposite characteristics of those complaints.
The number two complaint was an authoritarian approach using veiled threats. The opposite of that bad trait is a leader with command presence.
What is command presence?
A search of the Internet yields hundreds of hits with definitions of command presence. Suffice it to say that command presence is a positive description of how a leader presents themself i.e., bearing. In other words, the leader creates a favorable impression based on the their confidence, competence, skills, abilities, and knowledge.
The officer with command presence:
- Is a genuine person who is comfortable in their own skin, and they don’t flaunt their rank.
- Remains calm on scene, although civilians and others are yelling and screaming at them to do something.
- Is a person of strong character who values others and understands human behavior.
As you look at these words, I am sure that you can add more to the list.
Calm Chris and Whirlwind Willy
In my book, The Furnace of Leadership Development, I describe two individuals who displayed opposite ends of command presence. Both situations occurred at different wildland fires that were rapidly spreading in dry, windy conditions, and in both fires, structures were involved.
Calm Chris faced a fire that had spotted one to two miles ahead of the main fire front, and a small community was threatened. Over the radio, he coolly described what was happening, what resources he needed, and stated that an evacuation of civilians had to take place immediately. Calm Chris sounded like he was ordering a cup of coffee in the drive through.
At another wildland fire in a neighboring county, my immediate supervisor was Whirlwind Willy (we DID NOT work for the same agency). The fire front was threatening approximately a dozen houses when Whirlwind Willy drove up, was yelling, gesturing with his hands, and issuing orders that made absolutely no sense. Suddenly he yelled, “I’ll be back!” He drove off and left us in a state of bewilderment. A few minutes later, Whirlwind Willy returned and sent me and the task force I oversaw up the road to provide structure protection. We never saw Whirlwind Willy again and we accomplished the job without him.
You can purchase my book to read more about the above stories.
Who do you want to work for, Calm Chris or Whirlwind Willy? Which person do you have more confidence in? Which one has more command presence? Which one are you: Calm Chris or Whirlwind Willy.
Be a Calm Chris and do not fall for the Hollywood garbage that portrays firefighters as people running around like chickens with their heads cut off, always yelling and over dramatizing things. That trash is the deluded fancy of some network screenwriter who has the sole aim of making money for their bosses.
Building command presence
During my career, I spent fifteen-years as a battalion chief, and I have the command and leadership background, experience, and resources to help equip you to develop into a respected fire officer.