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A lesson on leading from the front

Lt. Col. Harold Moore showed us how we can demonstrate true leadership to our crewmembers and our community


Lieutenant Colonel Harold “Hal” Moore.

Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Our communities look up to and admire first responders. This is an honor, a privilege and a responsibility that we embrace and cherish. As first responders, we have a responsibility to leverage what is bestowed upon us by being leaders who lead from the front.

As a former Marine, I appreciate military movies, books and the leadership lessons culled from them. One leadership moment pertains to that of Hal Moore. In the movie “We Were Soldiers,” Lieutenant Colonel Harold “Hal” Moore is portrayed by actor Mel Gibson. Lt. Col. Moore’s boots were first off the helicopter when it landed at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam on Nov. 14, 1965. He was the commanding officer of his battalion, and he wanted to set the example for his team by being the first one on the ground.

Moore’s boots were also the last ones on the helicopter when the team was evacuated from the landing zone two days later. The battle had been long and bloody, and Moore wanted to make sure that all his soldiers were out before he left. The scene of Moore’s boots being the first off the helicopter is a powerful one, showing his commitment to his soldiers and his willingness to lead from the front.

Leading from the front means setting the example for others to follow. It means being willing to do the hard work, take risks and make tough decisions. It also means being honest, transparent and accountable. When small-unit leaders lead from the front, they inspire and motivate their respective teams to do their best.

Here are some specific ways to lead from the front:

  • Be willing to do the hard work. Don’t ask your team to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself. If you want them to be passionate about their work, you should be passionate about it too.
  • Take risks. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are a natural part of learning and growth. When you take risks, you show your team that you’re willing to put yourself out there and that you’re not afraid to fail.
  • Make tough decisions. Sometimes, leaders have to make tough decisions that are not popular with everyone. When you make tough decisions, you show your team that you’re willing to do what’s best for them, your community and your department, even if it’s not what everyone wants to hear.
  • Be honest, transparent and accountable. Be honest with your team about your expectations and goals. Be transparent about your decision-making process. And be accountable for your actions. When you’re honest, transparent and accountable, you build trust with your team.

In addition to these specific behaviors, there are a few general principles that can help you lead from the front:

  • Be clear about your vision. What do you want to achieve? What are your goals? When your team knows what you’re trying to achieve, they’re more likely to be motivated to help you achieve it.
  • Communicate effectively. Keep your team informed about what’s going on. Let them know about your plans, your progress and any challenges you’re facing. When you communicate effectively, you build trust and rapport with your team.
  • Empower your team. Give your team the freedom and authority to make decisions and solve problems. When you empower your team, you show them that you trust them and that you believe in their abilities.
  • Celebrate successes. When your team achieves a goal, take the time to celebrate their success. This will show them that you appreciate their hard work and that you’re proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Lead by example

Leading from the front like Lt. Col. Hal Moore is not always easy, but it’s one of the most effective ways to inspire and motivate your team. When you lead from the front, you set the example, model the behavior and build a team that is committed to achieving your goals. As we lead first responders, we have a responsibility to lead from the front. This is not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s essential to the success of our team and our mission, which is to protect and save lives and property. When we lead from the front, we create a culture of excellence and achievement. We build teams that are confident, capable and committed to making a difference.

John S. Butler is the fire chief of the Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department as well as president and board chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He previously served as fire chief for Howard County (Maryland) Department of Fire and Rescue Services and was the first chief to have held every rank within that department. Butler holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Baltimore, a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, and certificates from Harvard University, the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program, and the Fire Service Executive Development Institute. Butler holds the Chief Fire Officer, Chief EMS Officer, Chief Training Officer, and Fire Marshal designations from the Commission on Professional Credentialing. He is chairman of the NFA Board of Visitors and is a board member of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association. Butler is a retired U.S. Marine with 20 years of active and reserve service, including two combat tours.