Over the recent years, numerous organizations have experienced remarkable changes, including downsizing, leaner structures, and parallel approach to the flow of information. These changes, on one hand, are attributed to speedy development in technology, increased competition in the global market, and the evolution in the nature of workforce. Leadership plays a very significant role in managing these changes. This study explores leadership qualities that are essential for the success of an individual and organization. The study mainly focuses on St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue department. The study adopts applied research technique to investigate important leadership qualities in fire departments and other successful companies. The study relied on both primary data using questionnaires and secondary data to explain the main objective. There is no single leadership quality or style that can match every situation. Nonetheless, there are common leadership qualities among successful leaders and organizations.
Leadership is a process of putting up a technique for people to throw in their efforts to make something happen (Gronn, 2002, 423). In other words, leadership is perceived to mean the capacity to put in order a group of people to accomplish a common objective. The kind of a leader that an organization has will determine the direction that the organization will take in terms of development. Visionary and exemplary leaders will steer an organization to prosperity and success, while inefficient leaders will drive the organization to disarray and disorder (House, 2004, p. 4). People under a leader will often derive their modes of behaviour from their leader. They always look upon the leader to give them directions and instructions that are aimed at steering the organization forward (House, 2004, p. 12).
Over the recent years, numerous organizations have experienced remarkable changes, including downsizing, leaner structures, and parallel approach to the flow of information. These changes, on one hand, are attributed to speedy development in technology, increased competition in the global market, and the evolution in the nature of workforce. These changes are prompted by interventions, for instance, total quality management (TQM), and restructuring of business processes (Executive Leadership, 2005). Leadership plays a very significant role in the initiation and implementation of such changes in the organization. According to McGovern, Simmons and Gaken (2008), leadership which engenders a positive impact on an organization must take into consideration the various leadership paradigms such as directive versus participative leadership, autocratic versus democratic leadership among others.
The main objective of this study is to explore the desired leadership qualities in the metropolitan fire department and other organizations. The study will mainly focus on the St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue department. The result of the study will form a leadership guide and can be used by any organization. The study will attempt to answer a number of questions that are linked to the main objective. These questions are: What are the qualities of leadership as defined by the present leadership that has made the fire department to be successful, what are the qualities of leadership that are possessed by successful leaders in other organizations, and what do other urban fire departments consider as essential leadership qualities?
St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue department was founded in 1907 as a commercial organization. Before this period, fire hazards in the city were fought by horse-drawn equipments. By early 70s, the organization had employed over 300 employees, set up 9 stations, two fire divisions, fire containment and prevention. In the present days, the organization has about 400 employees, 13 stations, 5 divisions as well as a training and emergency centre (St.Petersburg Fire, and Recue, 2007, p. 3). Leadership of the organization has been developed basically through internal structures, except for fire chiefs who are hired from outside. It is only in one occasion that the fire chief was hired through the ranks. The first fire chief of this organization, W. Anderson, was a volunteer for over two decades before being appointed as the first paid fire chief when the organization was established in 1907. His leadership abilities as a volunteer were recognised by the St. Petersburg commission during that time and that why he was given the job. Since then, the leadership of the organization has been filled through ranks. Resources have set aside for training and development of the personnel (St.Petersburg Fire, and Recue, 2007, p. 6).
In order to qualify for the position of a fire officer, one is required to have at least two years degrees. The fire officer positions include Lieutenant, Captain, Divisional chiefs, Vice Chief and Fire Chief. The earlier training programs mainly focused on Total Quality Management (TQM); however, the company introduced other programs to match up the current challenges. These include computer applications, strategic managements, Incident Command Systems, payroll systems among others. These training programs are aimed at building the employees’ leadership skills on a continuous basis and at emergency scenes (St.Petersburg Fire, and Recue, 2007, p. 10).
According to the organization’s revised, strategic plan of 2007 the most significant leadership values is respect, accountability, trust, and empowerment (St. Petersburg, 2007, p. 15). These values are also regarded as the most desirable leadership qualities in the organization. At the officer’s level, these values are significant to demonstrate and to expect from the co-workers. At the fire fighter’s level, these values act as standard of behaviours and qualities expected by the leadership. However, over the last 3 decades, the organization has not identified significant leadership qualities that are desired of the officers, employees with the ambition of rising through the ranks, or the fire fighters (St.Petersburg Fire, and Recue, 2007, p. 20).
Historical experience of fire chief appointments shows that most leadership qualities have been developed internally and the earlier appointments have shown qualities that are considered necessary by the city administration. Only one fire chief vacancy was filled through the ranks within the organization. The promotion can be assumed to have been guided by the desired leadership qualities of the then fire chief that had to be possessed by the future fire chiefs. In general, in order to be promoted as a fire chief, one must have leadership qualities recognized by the outgoing fire chief, whose leadership qualities were acknowledged by the city administration during the appointment. This research project attempts to establish these leadership qualities (St.Petersburg Fire, and Recue, 2007, p. 25).
Mediocre leadership pulls the business unit backward instead of pushing it forward (Executive Leadership, 2005). An organization with a stable and efficient leadership will be in a better position to stay ahead of its competitors with regard to all aspects of the business. The business environment is very competitive in nature and any slight shortcoming with regard to leadership or management could possibly contribute to the downfall or collapse of an organization. Due to this, many modern organizations across the world have stipulated high standards in terms of qualifications of candidates to be considered for the top management posts (Smith, 1998).
The transformational changes of many organizations demand a leader who is more change centred. These types of leaders place more emphasis on the development of clear visions and motivate others to follow the vision. Therefore, change-centred leaders act as an inspiration for change for the general employees. According to Scully (2005), besides participative style of leadership, clear mission and vision are highly likely to promote innovative responses, creativity, willingness to take risks, and streamlining of the organizational processes. As a result, paradigm shift in leadership took place and this led to the emergence of new leadership theories such as transformational and charismatic leadership (Judge et al., 2002, p. 766).
Even though the terms charismatic and transformational leadership are normally used interchangeably, some studies have tried to make a distinction between them, with charismatic leadership being a subset of transformational leadership. As an inspiration of change, transformational leaders bring out performance beyond expectancy by inculcating pride, facilitating creativity, offering inspiration and communicating individual respect (Smith, 1998). According to Executive Leadership (2005), among all the leadership qualities, integrity is the most significant of them all (Executive Leadership, 2005).
Clarke and Chen (2007) leading by example is a common term among scholarly literatures. Basically, the words and actions of any leaders have a significant impact on their juniors’ interaction with others. To be an effective and successful leader, one must set the example by exhibiting values and qualities that are in line with the organization’s vision, mission or strategic plan. These qualities must be displayed all the time, setting the standard for the junior employees. Zaccaro, Rittman and Marks (2001) stressed that leaders must maintain high level of sincerity, integrity and condor at all time and that deceptive conduct can not promote trust. According to St. Petersburg Fire (2007), the organization’s core values are defined by respect, accountability, trust and empowerment. According to the organization’s strategic plan, accountability is a principle factor of respect, trust, and empowerment. The organizations advocate for reliable and conscientious attitudes among their employees. They expect them to be honest, loyal, and committed to excellence (Smith, 1998).
Other organizations have high regard for disciplined work ethics and high quality standards. In such organizations, traits such as honesty, integrity, and concern for others are highly promoted (Micek, 2007). According to her list of ten qualities of a successful leader, honesty and integrity tops the list. Walt Disney Company’s CEO, Bob Iger, asserts that each and every employee has a responsibility to uphold excellence and high integrity (The Walt Disney Company, 2007). According to him, exhibiting and practicing integrity are very important in the company. In the corporate website for HP electronic company, the main objective of the company is to develop leaders at all levels who are accountable and exemplifies the company’s values (Corporate Objectives, 2007), which clearly demonstrates that accountability is the most significant leadership quality in this company.
IBM President and CEO, Samuel J. Palmisano stressed that the company’s employee’s must ensure that their actions are driven by the following values; commitment to client success, innovation that is useful for the company and the world at large, and trust and individual responsibility in all forms of relationships (Palmisano, 2007). According to Avolio et al. (2003), most global businesses including Coca Cola, Microsoft, Wal Mart among other, have one thing in common: they all call for visionary leaders. The most important quality for a successful leader in all these companies is a vision-oriented leader. However, vision alone does not warrant success since these visions have to be communicated to the organizational staff. Work commitment also plays a significant role to the success of these companies (Bratton and Gold, 2007, p. 13). According to Stredwick (2005), the subject of work commitment is mostly linked to work values, work motivation and work involvement. In a nut shell, different literatures have identified vision, excellent communication, commitment, confidence, and intelligence as qualities necessary to steer the organization a head (Mowday et al., 1979, p.8; Bratton and Gold, 2007, p. 13; Executive Leadership, 2005).
Methodology is the process of instructing the ways to do the research mainly for conducting the research for the research question. The process of methodology insists that much care is to be given to the kinds and nature of procedures to be adhered to in accomplishing a given set of procedures or an objective (Saunders, 2009, p.229). Methodology describes specific methods and procedures. Such procedures represent a creative generic structure; thus, their order may be rearranged, or they may be combined or broken down in sub-processes.
As such, methodology may involve a detailing of generic procedures or it may be explained in a figurative way and may be expanded to remove obscurity in the school of thought with tenacious conceptions or doctrines as they associate to a specific field or discipline of inquiry especially if the philosophical and/or principle of the presumptions that signify a specific methodology or a specific study is known as reasoning methodology. A section on the methodology in academic research of the researchers will always be generally de rigueur.This section contains the research design, study population and the sampling techniques that will be used to collect data for the study. It also details the data analysis methods, ethical considerations, validity and reliability of data and the limitation of the study (Saunders, 2009, p.230).
For research methodology, the choices of the two approaches: deductive and inductive approach can be used for carrying out the research (Easterby, 2008, p.203). A deductive approach is described as a study in which the theory is tested by the empirical observation, and is referred to as moving from the general to the specific. Deductive research establishes a theory and then checks on the data; it uses quantitative data and it is a very structured approach. On the other hand, inductive approach is a study in which the theory is developed from observation of reality and is the opposite of deductive research; it moves from the specific observations to the general statements. Inductive approach does not start with the theory, and is very flexible using qualitative data (Saunders, 2009, p.231). This study mainly used inductive approach because the theory is developed from the observations of the reality, and during the process, there are qualitative data that are used for data analysis.
This study uses as a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. (Saunders, 2009, p.232) distinguished between qualitative and quantitative research methods. By using quantitative approach, the researcher would need to collect a volume of data and analyze the relationship of the data, and then the data would be manipulated into trends or patterns. Next, the researcher would use standardized approaches that structure the data before it is analyzed. Examples of quantitative approach include experiments, surveys, formal methods and numerical methods. By using qualitative approach, the researcher would collect more in depth data and aim at exploring understanding, meaning, and experience. The data are the feelings and views for qualitative approach and not integrated in the opinion poll. Besides, it is difficult to analyze by standardized methods. Case study research, action research and ethnography are some illustrations of qualitative methods (Easterby, 2008, p.215).
First, cases were selected purposefully in qualitative research, with regard to whether or not they correlated with some contextual characteristics. Next, the part played by the researchers was to obtain a higher critical care. This is mainly done in qualitative research due to the fact that there is every chance of the researcher assuming a transcendental or a ‘neutral’ position. Thus, this appears to be more elusive both in philosophical and/or practical terms. It is for this reason that the qualitative researchers are frequently pressed to mirror on their part in the research procedures and make things obvious in their research analyses (Saunders, 2009, p.233).
Qualitative research procedures evaluate contextually and holistically, instead of being isolationist and reductionist. For instance, majority of qualitative processes need researchers to methodologically script data and to know and record themes reliably and consistently (Bryman and Bell, 2003, p.217). It is the qualitative procedures that are used for explaining puzzling quantitative results or for exploration. However, the most customary division between the employment of quantitative and qualitative research particularly in the social sciences is that quantitative methods are employed to evaluate the main objective. This is so to establish content correctness and to evaluate measures that the researcher believes he/she should evaluate. This is regarded as one of the striking benefits of qualitative research. Some regard quantitative methods to offer more samples, “precise and reliable measures through focalized hypotheses, evaluation techniques and applied mathematics” (Bryman and Bell, 2003, p.217).
In the case of program and policy evaluation research, qualitative research is often employed since it can find solution to some significant questions more effectively and efficiently than quantitative processes (Bryman and Bell, 2003, p.217). This is mainly the case for comprehending why and how some results were accomplished (not just what was accomplished) and also for finding the solutions to significant questions about pertinence, non-planned impacts and effects of programs such as: were anticipations sensible; did procedures function as anticipated; were major players able to accomplish their responsibilities; did the plans create any unwanted impacts; and so on. Qualitative overtures have the benefit of permitting for more multifariousness with regard to the replies and the capability to fit into new happenings or matters particularly during the research process itself. An outstanding element of qualitative research is that it can be time-consuming and expensive to carry-out, many provinces of research use qualitative procedures that have been chiefly planned to offer more cost-efficient, succinct and timely outcomes (Bryman and Bell, 2003, p.217).
In this research study, the researcher is hypothesized to have considered all parts of the ethical issues. The ethical issues need to be pointed out in the proposal of the research. Research should be designed and undertaken in such a way that it fosters quality and integrity. The research staff needs to be informed of the purpose, methods and the use of the research. In addition, research also needs to respect the confidential information and the anonymity of the respondents. The harm that may be transferred to the participants must be avoided (Bryman and Bell, 2003, p.234). In line with this research objective, the data collected had to be confidential. The participants were required to take part in the research voluntarily, and they had the right of not answering questions that they regarded as uncomfortable. The researcher needs to respect the anonymity of the respondents. However, sometimes, it may misrepresent the data when conducting data analysis (Bryman and Bell, 2003, p.234).
Data collection methods
Data can be classified into two and they are secondary data and primary data. Primary data refer to the new data that the researcher needs to collect for the research while secondary data refer to the existing data that are available in various sources including books, journals, internet, etc. (Easterby, 2008, p.216). For primary data collection, the issue is to focus on sampling. As far as researcher is considered, the sampling technique is significant. For example, the sample size that is determined should not be too small as this will make it difficult to generalize the data. It is to be noted that reliable results can be originated from larger sample size (Bryman and Bell, 2003, p.309)
Secondary data can be said to be quantifiable. Quantitative data collection methods mean that numerical data are collected and analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics, which provide wide coverage, reliability and objectivity, but lack other details and specific information. Qualitative data collection methods refer to non-numeric data that are collected through observations, interviews and formal or informal discussions. It deals with specific problem, but lacks objectivity and generalization (Saunders, 2009, p.241). Secondary, data were gotten mainly from publications, case studies, and from the internet.
The questionnaires were issued to the employees of three fire departments including St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue department. The study chose a target of 200 respondents and received feedback from 150 respondents. This is equivalent to a 75% response rate which is very good. The questionnaire targeted mainly the fire fighters and staff officers who included fire chief, division chief, and district chief.
Limitation of data collection methods
There have been a lot of concerns on additional budgetary expenses for collection of the data, regardless of whether the gathered data are really genuine or not and whether there may be an explicit conclusion when interpreting and analyzing the data. In addition, some employees were reluctant to offer some information they deemed confidential and unsafe in the hands of their competitors. This posed a great challenge to the research as the researcher had to take a longer time to find employees who were willing to give out adequate information (More, 2008, p.203).
Validity and reliability
Validity of the data represents the data integrity and it connotes that the data are accurate and much consistent. Validity has been explained as a descriptive evaluation of the association between actions and interpretations and empirical evidence deduced from the data (Robson, 2002, p.214). The canyon of validity is applicable to all guises of evaluation (which are both qualitative and quantitative) by coalescing scientific inquiry and rational debates to prove or disprove the outcomes and interpretations emanating from the data collected (Saunders, 2009, p.245). Reliability of the data is the outcome of a series of actions which commence with the proper explanation of the issues to be resolved. This may push on to a clear recognition of the yardsticks concerned. It contains the target samples to be chosen, the proper sampling strategy and the sampling methods to be employed. When necessary samples have to be studied, the outcomes should be illustrated in such a style that those who arrive at the findings and initiate actions can do so with all adequate guarantees (Saunders, 2009, p.250).
Data Analysis and Findings
Out of the 150 questionnaires sent to the external fire departments, 100 (66%) questionnaires were returned. The results were aimed at comparing St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue department with other fire departments. The study used three questionnaires each attempting to answer the research questions. The survey and a cover letter were sent to the fire chief of each departments using fax and it was requested to be returned within two weeks. To answer question, one of the research questions a list of different leadership qualities was provided in the questionnaire and the respondents were asked to rank them according to their significance in the organization and to match them each positions they are most essential with. Only ten qualities were chosen for each personnel rank to save time and energy.
The top ten qualities preferred for lieutenants in descending orders included technical proficiency, confident, consistence, integrity, accessible, educated and decisive, listener, motivator and role model. For the captain, the orders were consistence, technical proficiency, approachable, educated, decisive, role model, motivator, integrity, confident and listener. For the district chief, the orders were confident, consistent, integrity, approachable, decisive, motivator, technical proficient, educated, intelligent and a listener. For division chief, the top ten leadership qualities in ascending order were integrity, approachable, educated, intelligence, and communicator, articulate, visionary, consistent, realistic, and decisive. From the three positions, it is very clear that integrity is the leading leadership quality while technical quality fluctuate the most. Excellent communication, decisive and visionary leadership are also more important. The top ten leadership qualities for assistant chief are integrity, approachable, educated, intelligent, consistent, communicator, articulate, confident, loyal, and ethical. Lastly, for fire chief, the leadership qualities are ranked as follows: educated, political, integrity, approachable, intelligent, consistent, articulate, ethical, visionary, and empathetic. It should be noted that the fire chief shares most of the qualities with other personnel except that he must be political.
In order to answer the second research question, the fire fighters were asked to list qualities possessed by different categories of leaders in their organization and these were limited to ten qualities. The results are listed in the appendices.
To answer the third research question, websites of different companies and a number of successful leaders were visited. These include Bill Gates of Microsoft, Ray Kroc of McDonalds, and Lee lacocca of Crysler among others. From these websites, a lot of emphasis was placed on integrity, commitment, and visionary leadership.
Conclusion and Recommendation
In the study, there was nothing that was established that restricted a particular leadership skill to organizational success. Most of the literatures including the survey indicated that different styles of leadership apply to different situations. However, the study revealed that there are common leadership qualities among fire departments and other successful organizations. The study supports the notion that number of leadership qualities should be developed and distributed to all employees. The most significant leadership quality identified in the survey is integrity. This followed by communication since leaders can only be measured by the ideas they can communicate to others. However, according to the literatures, there are numerous beliefs on the qualities that successful leaders possess. Therefore, there is no one style of leadership that can tackle each and every situation. Nevertheless, the study shows common leadership qualities among successful organizations and leaders both within and without the fire department.
Based on the results of this study, it is now clear that there is no single leadership quality or style that can match every situation. Nonetheless, there are common leadership qualities among successful leaders and organizations. Even though the study reveals that integrity is the most desired leadership quality, excellent communication is the most significant according to the chats. Therefore, organizations must put a lot of emphasis on the two leadership qualities. Since there is a massive disparity on leadership qualities among different ranks of employees, leadership training is necessary to bridge this gap.
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