My Thoughts on Leadership

Personality Conflicts in the Fire Service 

One of the more difficult situations you can encounter as a leader is the presence of challenging personalities within your organization and seeing those personalities clash with one another. A major challenge comes when the leader gets calls from the membership requesting others be removed because of personality conflicts. How do you handle these scenarios? 

I have been extremely fortunate in my fire service career to work for very good leaders that are capable of handling the most challenging leadership situations thrown at them, as well as some very poor leaders who tend to make the situations worse. When I took over as the Fire Chief in my organization, I was faced with some very challenging personality conflicts. I was even told before I began that I might want to consider removing individuals from their roles within the department, or even removing them from the department entirely. What I saw was several “cliques” that had formed throughout the agency, and they caused a lack of overall team support. 

As a leader, this sort of challenge can be a daunting one. When a new Chief enters an organization, there is already a great deal of change occurring, and removing people from their roles can cause an immediate rift between you and the membership. My focus moved automatically to harnessing this tension and using it for good. There were people who possessed skills that others did not, and it turned out that this was the root cause for some of these issues. By taking the time to understand the challenges, not making immediate changes, and gathering as much information as reasonably possible before making decisions, I was able to successfully navigate these personality conflicts. Changes in shifts occurred and personnel were moved under Captains that better suited their skill sets and personalities. As the changes began to take hold, the shifts began to work together and function as an overall team in pursuit of the same goal: providing exceptional customer service to our residents. 

Just as every department operates in their own manner, each individual shift within a department also develops its own personality and requires a different sort of attention from the leader. Being able to get to know your people and their individual personalities and making the effort to understand how they best function is an empirical skill that every leader must possess to be successful.