Developing leadership in the fire and rescue service.(Learning & Development)

This is the first of a series of papers mapping progress in the implementation of an on-going regional leadership development framework, in association with Real World Group, coordinated by North Yorkshire FRS. It outlines the nature of leadership development in the Service based on experience of 25 plus years of leadership research and culture change across the public and private sector

IT IS USEFUL TO BEGIN BY reminding ourselves that organisations are collections of people--this is their strength, but it is also a potential source of weakness. The culture of an organisation is made up of the values that are shared, the relationships that exist, and the conversations that take place. Take them away, and there is nothing.

What creates the particular culture of the organisation, then, is the nature of the interactions, or 'the way we do things around here'. This brings us to the subject of leadership. Indeed, as Ed Schein reminds us: 'Leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin'.


Following publication of the Bain Report (2002), the Fire and Rescue Service, perhaps more than other organisations in the public sector, is undergoing almost seismic changes in its culture (Trowsdale, 2007). These, in turn, have significant implications for the way in which the Service is managed and led.

It is important to draw a distinction between management and leadership because, if other public sector organisations are a measure of how attempts are made to bring about change, then it will be characterised by two things. These are an obsession with achieving short-term targets, coupled with a strong emphasis on 'managerialism' or 'transactional leadership'.

This is not to say that targets should not be set; quite the contrary. Indeed, the North Yorkshire target vision '125 Alive'--achieving the goal that by 2010, 125 more people will be alive, rather than be involved in a fire-related or other emergency, than would otherwise be the case--meets all the criteria of being SMART.

The answer to the question, 'How can '125 Alive' be achieved?' lies to a very large extent in the nature of leadership. Notions of leadership, which have changed over the decades, in part, affected by changes in society, can be seen to have gone through five main stages.

Thus, the 'trait' or 'Great Man' theories of the 1930s (stage 1) gave way to the 'behavioural' theories of the 1950s (stage 2), out of which the notion of 'managerial competency', later 'leadership competency' arose. Both were criticised, at stage 3, for failing to take proper account of the situational factors that can affect the ability of a leader to lead effectively.

The late 1970s, early 1980s saw the emergence of stage 4. Definitions of leadership changed, from 'influencing individuals' behaviours, such that they achieved organisational objectives (now referred to as 'management'), to the notion that leadership was fundamentally about handling constant change. That is creating a vision and engaging individuals in the means by which they are able to cope with ever-changing situations--what Charles Handy referred to as 'never ending white water'. This 'new paradigm' thinking resulted in models of 'distant', often 'heroic' leadership, with emphases on 'charisma', 'vision', and 'transformation'.

Stage 5 thinking emerged almost simultaneously in the UK and the US. In the US, following unedifying events such as the fall of Enron and Worldcom, there was growing dissatisfaction with the heroic approach to leadership, and an increasing awareness of the value of 'engaging' with staff--value not just in human terms, but also in terms of profitability.

Meanwhile, research at the University of Leeds led to the development of a model of 'nearby, post-heroic transformational' or 'engaging leadership', and a 360-degree instrument of proven validity, the Transformational Leadership Questionnaire (TLQ). …

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