Organizational Leadership in the Wildland Fire Service - Chapter 1
Chapter 1: Organizational Leadership in the Wildland Fire Service 1
Lea d er shi p i n t he
Wildland Fire Ser vice
Identify the different approaches to the study of leadership
Describe the leadership of self, others and organization model
Restate the general leadership tool discussed in the course
Leadership has been the focus of great scrutiny and research for more than 60
years. Stogdill (1948) was one of the first to review the leadership research to
identify traits that differentiated followers from leaders. Since then a variety of
leadership theories have been proposed. In response to the almost endless
number of corporate leadership publications, it is wise to consider the works of
Selznick (1984), “Leadership is not equivalent to office-holding or high prestige or
authority or decision-making. It is not helpful to identify leadership with
whatever is done by people in high places” (p. 24).
What is critical is that we systematically study leadership to identify its salient
features, understand how these features affect performance and train or select
individuals so that they are well equipped to lead.
Today, researchers entertain a number of theoretical approaches to leadership
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Theory of Work Unit Leadership – See Miner’s textbook
Lead-Member Exchange Theory (LMX)
Like a group of blind people attempting to describe an elephant, most theories
or approaches endeavor to explain a portion of the elephant, striving to
differentiate their theory from the others, leaving the subject incomplete. Much
of the research has focused on the tangible aspects of leadership tasks, and is
often limited to supervisor-subordinate relationships in structured situations like
business (though many assume the compliance level of military orders) where
there exists a quantifiable outcome, usually money.
Research examining leadership in conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity, like
the tasks many of you face, is relatively rare.
We need to examine leadership within wildland fire and identify those aspects
that will respond to existing leadership approaches and theories. At the same
time we need to identify those elements of the task that are not adequately
addressed by current mainstream leadership research and find resources that fill
the gaps. Leadership researchers Luthans & Slocum (2004) state that, “Faced with
an unprecedented economic, technological, sociopolitical, and moral/ethical
tumultuous sea of change, there is a need for new theories, new applications and
just plain new thinking about leadership” (p. 227).
For wildland fire, we need leadership that sets the path of organizations,
envisions new processes and, creates new methods and goals to measure
performance. Ultimately, we need to master leadership IN the organization while
developing leadership OF the organization (Boal & Hooijberg, 2000). The
dichotomy of leadership is described in a recent theory called transcendent
According to Mary Crossan and her colleagues, strategic leadership transcends
our current understanding of leadership. It does not replace our current
understanding of leadership, but rather is built on three separate components:
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Leadership of self
Leadership of others
Leadership of organizations
What is appealing about Crossan’s conceptualization of transcendent leadership
is that rather than differentiating itself from other theories and models, it begins
to incorporate them into a larger understanding of leadership. The simple three-
part framework Crossan creates, which we will use as a guide for parts of this
course, gives us a convenient way to consider the different aspects of leadership.
From Crossan, Vera, Nanjad (2008).
Where Leadership Literature Fits
Oren Harari’s examination of Colin Powell’s leadership entitled “The Leadership
Secrets of Colin Powell” identifies individual attitudes and actions that affect
leadership in the three dimensions - self, others and organizations. See the table
of “secrets” below. Note that some of the secrets fit in two aspects of the model.
Simplify, for example, reflects a need to pursue simplicity within ourselves and in
how we manage others, and extends to our needs to manage organizations, too.
Also notice the relatively small number of secrets regarding the leadership of
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organizations. There are only three. This disparity is not limited to Colin Powell.
In fact, in the academic leadership research, far more has been written about the
leadership of self and others than has been written about organizations.
Self Other Organization
Be prepared to piss Promote a clash of ideas Let change lead
people off growth
Establish trust Pick the right people Let situation dictate
Walk the talk Listen Close with the enemy
Listen Seek consensus (but
don’t be ruled by it)
Be vigilant in details Fit no stereotypes
Be a disorganizer Simplify
Check your ego at the Push the envelope
Simplify View people as partners
Push the envelope Challenge the pros
Make optimism a top Don’t rely on charts and
Have fun in your Trust those in the
Strive for balance Have fun in your
Prepare to be lonely
In preparation of this course, the steering committee, instructors and coaches
have worked to divide the relevant literature into these three categories. Over
the remainder of the course, we will examine what is required to “Have fun in
your command.” We will discuss how leaders can push the envelope with their
followers and we will see how circumstances shape the organization and
performance of groups of people.
The course focuses on the state-of-the-art in leadership research. Like any field
of research, new developments continue to occur. The goal of the steering
committee is to provide you with the latest knowledge and tools that can
facilitate your success as a leader.
The course will also cover what might be called the tools and skills of leadership
and unique leadership challenges. Tools include situation awareness, employee
motivation and reward, vision, decision-making, stress management, and
mentoring and coaching. Special attention will be paid to leadership within
teams, both co-located and virtual. By the end of the course, you will have a
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broad understanding of contemporary leadership and be equipped with tools
you can use to enhance your leadership skills.
Boal, K. B., & Hooijberg, R. (2000). Strategic leadership research: Moving on.
Leadership Quarterly. 11(4), 515-549.
Crossan, M., Vera, D., & Nanjad, L. (2008). Transcendent leadership: Strategic
leadership in dynamic environments. Leadership Quarterly. 19(5), 569-581.
Harari, O. (2002). The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell. McGraw Hill: New York.
Luthans, F., & Slocum, J. (2004). Special Issue: New Leadership for a New Time.
Organizational Dynamics. 33(3), 227.
Selznick, P. (1984). Leadership in administration: A sociological interpretation.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Stogdill, R. M. (1948). Personal factors associated with leadership; a survey of the
literature. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied. 25, 35-71.
Weick, K. E. (1979). The Social Psychology of Organizing. Addison-Wesley: