Dear Jeff Skilling,
Thanks so much for your involvement in the search for a fire chief.
Having suffered the lack of competent leadership this department has
experienced during my 20 year career, I offer these comments respectfully.
This is an organization of unique people with a unique mission. Those who
lead these people need not be mission specialists but must be true leaders of
people. Because of the way fire departments grow their leaders from within,
leadership is not a quality that evolves. Authority is used in its place.
Firefighters are taught to rely on themsleves in high tide, and they do not
naturally seek information and ideas from others. Because politics won't
allow the department to operate in a similar fashion to the Marine Corpse,
authority is less than useful at the top: leadership is essential.
None of the men who have headed this department in the last 20 years have
understood the difference between leadership and authority. They have
commanded, but not led. The importance of this difference becomes evident
once one is familiar with the problems addressed but not improved.
The people in this department who raise their own flag high enough to be
recognized as potential chiefs do so being driven by a combination of greed
and ego. They campaign for the job because they want it, not because they
think they can do a good job. When they take the fire chief's job, this ego
does not allow them to lead talented people. It directs them to command and
The second major element of failure, when coupled to this egomaniacal
command style, puts the incompetence in motion. As was extremely clear with
the last chief we had, no ego check , no alter ego, no reality check was ever
allowed. None of his people were allowed to express any oppositional views or
to suggest anything differing from the chief's ideas. A true leader will more
than listen to his opponents on any issue or idea. He will welcome differing
views, knowing they might influence him in a positive way, even if only to
preserve his image as almighty. In our department we have consistently seen a
style of live or die by the chief's wishes. It's not what's best for the
citizens that comes to the fore, it's what makes everyone remember who's in
charge. I know this sounds bitter, but it's as true as it is
The above described syndrome has contributed enormously to the failures
of leadership we have seen. This department has made many mistakes laughable
to organizational psychologists, fleet management experts, and most logical
thinkers inside the department.
This department's current state is much more problematic than Mayor Brown
either recognizes or is willing to admit. There are many troubles which make
the rank and file veterans see a terrible failure of this department to carry
out its mission in the near future. Recent status reports, though harsh, have
been too kind.
With a leadership style in any way similar to our record, we're in
trouble. We need a leader who can address the problems we have as a
department instead of using their energy and resources to protect their own
status, to explain why problems exist instead of how they'll be addressed. We
need someone with the vision, the intellectual breadth, to see the department
as a function of society. We need someone who has some experience in the
outside world and who understands that all relevant and useful knowledge is
not already held by our department. We need someone who can recognize talent,
good ideas, and put them to use. Someone who knows what a leader means when
he tells his assistants to speak their minds, that he can agree with himself
and doesn't need them for that, but that he needs their input especially when
it differs from his own. Someone who understands and appreciates the
scientific model for solving problems, and who sees the organizational chart
with the bottom at the top so that the leaders are there to support as they
direct. Someone who leads people to do the right thing because they want to,
not because they have to. Someone who will say that things are not all right
and here's what we're going to do to improve them.
Perhaps you will keep an eye out for these qualities and we might have a
real leader for a change, instead of just a chief.
Thanks again for your work on this and good luck.
Walter "George" Steich
7143 Shady Mill
Houston, Tx 77040