The other day my wife sent me a link I thought appropriate to this conversation. Written by Geoffrey James at Inc.com, it is titled "8 Core Beliefs of Extraordinary Bosses". This compilation contains a number of the values I have already shared with you in this series. While the article itself was interesting, when I read the comments, I found some of the reactions to be unbelievably negative.
There are clearly those who don't believe altruism has a place in leading. There are those who have learned in their lives that leadership requires you to wield tyrannical power, to make people uncomfortable, and to focus on profits over people. Altruism, to them, is equated with weakness. That works fine if you have an endless supply of bodies, but at some point, the battle will take a toll on the troops and you will find yourself in the position of trying to move forward and nobody wants to move with you.
What makes a leader? What drives people to follow someone who was appointed to supervise them, to organize them, or to fill a position? You can fill volumes with the definition of leadership, but here's a very poignant thought: one of the greatest institutions to study leadership, the United States Military Academy at West Point, infers that altruistic leadership is the ultimate measure of what makes a leader. They promote it in the West Point Cadet Maxim:
Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.
Transformational leadership, though, only works on people who seek to attain higher levels of self-actualization. As expressed in Maslow's pyramid, if an individual is, for one reason or another, unable to meet their immediate needs, their focus will not be on self-actualization but on survival. In order for transformational leadership to be of use, the challenges found in the lower echelons of the pyramid must be resolved. Your efforts at servant leadership can provide the platform to show altruistic actions.
There are some for whom this type of leadership is truly wasted upon, those who simply live to be miserable. I call these people "professional assholes". No amount of servant leadership is going to convince them to come along and do what is best for the whole. They see any effort directed toward making their lives better as simply that; a benefit for them and screw everyone else. There are any number of pathological issues at play and frankly, the behavior has many causes, none of which seem to be clearly addressed. They may just really believe that they are right and the rest of the world is wrong. I'm sure there are places in the world where those people can be happy, but serving the public during their time of greatest need is not one of them.
And this is where it comes to: those who work in emergency services must have the desire to serve others. This job is not a job in which you can be a sociopath and things just sail along smoothly. The whole point of the job, career or volunteer, is to care for others. There may be some technical applications to the job, but if you struggle with interacting with others, perhaps you should consider another opportunity. Likewise, if you are in the position of leading people who are wired to be helping others, your failure to help others is going to make you and everyone else miserable. These situations, which even in this day and age where we have learned more about human psychology in regard to work interactions, are still prevalent.
We may have a group of people, we may have the tools and other resources to do the job, and we may have a mission, but if we can't put all this together and work with it, we are no more an effective emergency services team than is dumping a load of building materials on a job and calling it a house. The leader must identify the issues facing them, find a way to solve the challenges, and put the team together.