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Fire Chief Lesson: Humility Means You are Not the Focus

The best answers to a problem often lie in the people responsible to do the work. - Chief (Retired) Randy Bruegman

President Harry Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” We live in a time when so many leaders are more focused on the title that they hold or how many followers, likes or hits they get on their social media accounts, than they are on the people they are responsible for leading.

I have learned that the best leaders are selfless and more concerned with the well-being of their team than with their personal titles. You cannot be an effective leader if you feel that you are better than the people you are leading. The best leaders I have worked for understood that the best answers to a problem often lie in the people that are responsible to do the work. Those leaders were focused on building a cultural competence within their team(s) to bring together a diverse set of talents and perspectives to be successful.

In his book From Good to Great, Jim Collins noted the two characteristics separating the best from the rest, was the combination of Humility partnered with a tenacity to always do what is right for the organization. If you are in a leadership position and you want to pay it forward and leave it better than you found it, start by leading with Humility.

In his book, Becoming a Leader of Character, Dave Anderson defines Humility as:

Believing and acting like “It’s not about me.”

Here are some proven exercises to make that a reality:

Have a clear understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses.

Look to lift others up. It is not about you; it is about your team.

Serve for the good of others, not for accolades.

Admit when you are wrong, and own your mistakes

Be willing to change your mind, your plans, your direction.

Create a culture that values openness and curiosity and a willingness to learn from anyone.

Focus on building a culture that is built on collaboration and is focused on improved team performance, innovation, and building a positive work environment.

Create space to make mistakes, understanding that mistakes often lead to growth.

Reaching your potential as a leader is developing the leadership values and actions you need to do your work and to inspire your team to do the same. If you want to make a difference and leave a legacy with the people and the organizations you serve, being a humble leader is a great place to start.

To have someone of Randy’s stature and experience in the fire service write a guest blog is an honor. Since I (Dave) met him, Randy quickly became a mentor for me as I continue to work with our first responder communities. I didn’t know who he was until I began researching his impact on the fire service across the country. Wow! His humble demeanor is inspiring considering his accomplishments. It was fitting that he would write a guest blog on Humility.

Chief (Retired) Randy Bruegman began his career at the Poudre Fire Authority in Colorado. He has served as the fire chief for 27 years in the City of Campbell, California; the Village of Hoffman Estates, Illinois; Clackamas County Fire District No. 1 (Oregon); City of Fresno, California; and the City of Anaheim, California, retiring in December 2018 after serving over 40 years in local government. Chief Bruegman served as president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in 2002–2003 and as the president of the board of directors of the Center for Public Safety Excellence from 2004–2017. The Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) established the Randy R. Bruegman Agency Innovation Award in honor of Chief Randy Bruegman. To learn more:


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