What makes a leader crumble?

As I have been preparing to teach a building construction for the fire service class, I was struck by the section on building failures.  As I studied why buildings fail, I could not shake the thought that the same things that make a building susceptible to failure is the same thing that can put us, as leaders, at risk of failure.
A building failure occurs when a structure is "no longer capable of performing its required function in a satisfactory manner".  The potential cause of a building failure can usually be traced to one of these three sources:
  1. Structural integrity
  2. Building systems
  3. Design deficiencies
Structural Integrity
Related to buildings under fire conditions, the structural integrity is fully related to the fire resistance and combustibility of the materials used in the construction of the structure and the buildings contents.
"The structural integrity of a building under fire conditions is related to the fire resistance and combustibility of the materials of which it is constructed.  Combustible materials may possess some initial fire resistance...and be able to act as a barrier to fire, but ultimately they will be consumed...noncombustible materials...may also retain structural integrity at first but will fail from the effects of the heat. 
Fire-resistive materials possess the ability to maintain structural integrity.  Structural integrity permits effective interior attacks and, therefore, is of fundamental importance to the firefighter." (Building Construction Related to the Fire Service, 3rd ed., pg 21)
It seems that we are seeing leadership failures from this source more and more often, especially in the political realm.  We see leaders that pilot an organization or people through a trying time, only to find out that behind the scenes the leaders integrity has failed.

Integrity has been defined as, "the person you are when no one is watching".  There is an old saying that states, “You can fool some of the people all the time, you can fool all the people some of the time, but you can never fool all the people all the time”. There is no truer statement than this when it comes to the leader who lacks true integrity. The insincere leader can hide his lack of integrity for a while, around certain groups of people, he may even at times, fool everyone into thinking that he is the real deal, a real hero, one to be looked up to and emulated. However, when it comes time for him to act, when his leadership is put to the test, his true colors will shine through. Without integrity he will fail, he will be found out. Integrity is the glue that holds that holds the leader together through every trial that may arise.

Building Systems

It takes many components and separate systems all working together to create a functional, productive, and comfortable facility. These systems include HVAC, electrical, plumbing, communications, elevators, and the list could go on.
"Improper or inadequate design of these systems can contribute to building failures under fire conditions...the duct work and circulating fans of a ventilation system can contribute to the spread of products of combustion throughout a building.  Good design practice requires that provisions be built into a system to prevent the spread of combustion products.  These provisions would include such measures as smoke detectors to initiate the shutdown of units or to operate dampers in ducts." (Building Construction Related to the Fire Service, 3rd ed., pg 21)
In order for these systems to prevent building failure, they must be in place, and they must be inspected, tested, and maintained at regular intervals.  Many leaders fail because they have not placed safeguards and systems into their life, organization, or leadership.  Leaders should have accountability in place, they should be accountable to the communities they serve, the people they lead, and in their personal lives (see above).  The leader who does not have accountability systems in place will quickly fail (due to his own errors, or accusations of).  The leader should be open and forthright in all his dealings, he should have people in his life that are going to hold him to a high standard of excellence and integrity, in both, his professional and personal life.  These people are there to celebrate the leaders victories, but also to guide him back when he strays, and call him out on his mistakes. This relationship, needs to be in place, but also should be inspected and maintained from time to time to ensure that it is still a viable accountability partnership.

Design Deficiencies

A design deficiency occurs when a building is utilized for other than its intended purpose.  If a structure is built to be a business occupancy, a bank for instance, but is utilized for a food establishment and performance venue, then there will be several problems related to life safety. Exiting requirements are different, fire protection and detection systems and demands will need to be upgraded and addressed. Or, perhaps a warehouse is constructed for storage of ordinary hazard materials, but then high hazard items are stored there, the systems in place will soon be overpowered, as they were not designed for a high hazard.

This is probably the most innocent of the causes of leadership failure.  People who are put into leadership positions that they are not designed for, or have yet obtained the mentality to achieve to.  In the fire service this often plays out by promoting people into leadership roles (lieutenants, captains, chiefs) simply because they have the required time or connections.  However, many of those promoted do not have the mental characteristics for this position.  They think and behave like a firefighter, instead of a leader. And there is a huge difference. 

Often times, we long for the benefits of the promotion so we will try to go for it, even though we realize that it is not what we are designed for.  It is outside of our realm of things we are passionate about, and excel in.  I use myself as an example here.  I am passionate about the fire prevention side of the fire service.  I enjoy and excel in the areas of code development, fire systems, public education and inspection practices.  Though, I am a certified firefighter, when it comes to the strategy and tactics of fire attack, RIT operations, vehicle extrication, or emergency medical procedures, I sort of glaze over.  So, for me to serve in the role of operations lieutenant I would be putting myself and crew at risk of failure.  However, if I were at the same rank the Fire Prevention Bureau, I and my team, would have great success.  Sometimes, we have to say no to some really good things, in order to stay focused on the excellent thing that we were designed for.

We make ourselves susceptible to leadership failure when we try to act outside of what we were designed for.

As you continue to climb the ladder of success ensure that you maintain your structural integrity, implement and maintain systems of accountability, and always hold to what you are uniquely designed for.



Backtracking on Fire Safety

Fire Engineering magazine recently published an article entitled, Should Healthcare Fire Safety Backtrack on 60 Years of Improvement. This article clearly outlines where healthcare fire safety started, what it has evolved to, and the decreases in fire safety that are currently being proposed. 

Read the whole article here --> . This article calls for code officials to get involved and speak out at the ICC Public Comment Hearings being held October 2-10 in Atlantic City. 

An organization involved in preventing these changes, is the Patient Fire Safety Coalition.
I would encourage you to visit their site for more information and to get involved. You can also contact them directly at,