Is It Time to Revise Your Organizational Chart?

True servant leadership requires the chief to support the firefighters, not the other way around

By Scott Cook
Published Friday, January 14, 2011

Do you serve your firefighters or do your firefighters serve you?

Here’s another way to ask that question: What does your organization chart look like?

If you’re like most organizations, the chief is at the top, and all of the subordinates are below. To me, this gives a poor image to your personnel: All those folks at the bottom are supporting el jefe.

If you’re a smart officer, you willingly accept and perform your daily tasks for the benefit  and  support of your subordinates and your community. Any personal benefit is a distant fourth or  fifth on the list at best.

Visualize the Difference
So here’s what I propose: Develop a new organizational chart. Instead of an organizational chart like the one you see in the first photo, make yours like the one in the second photo.

I know some of you may think  this seems  weird. But many fire chiefs and officers go around telling people that they’re “servant leaders.” If you look at those two charts, which one displays servant leadership?

The traditional chart gives the perception that the subordinates are there to support and serve the officers above them, all the way to the chief. The second chart shows that the officers (from the chief to the individual company officer) are there to support the troops.

Not only does this look different, but it also helps  foster a change in mentality in the organization. Look at the chief at the bottom. What does his role look like now? Balance and support. The chief has to provide those things or the organization tilts to one side or the other and becomes off balance or, worse, collapses. That balance and support expectation continues all the way up the line to the individual company officer.

Officers shouldn’t be pulling motivated people along; they should support them, build on their strengths and work to improve their weaknesses.

Would It Work?
Does this work? It did when I was chief. And the concept behind it worked for my predecessors, as it does for other officers and corporations around the globe. I  built the org chart to show that I expected the officers to support the firefighters and informed them that nothing less would be tolerated. At the same time, the firefighters were  informed not to misunderstand the meaning of the chart—there was still a chain of command, and they were expected to  follow it.

What if your chief doesn’t like this? If you’re an officer, you can still build your organizational chart to look like this.

Leadership is, in fact, servanthood. Regardless of how it’s explained in a biography, autobiography or final analysis, if you study the qualities that make people great leaders, the common trait they all share is that they served their subordinates. Historical “leaders” who didn’t serve their subordinates are history’s bullies. They gained their power by force or fraud.

I’ll say it again: If as an officer you’re more inclined to support your career goals than to support your crew, you should be looking for another line of work. Your job as an officer is to support and ensure the health, safety and successful operation of your crew(s).

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Top-down organizational chart
Upside-down organizational chart



Is It Time to Revise Your Organizational Chart?

True servant leadership requires the chief to support the firefighters, not the other way around Top-down organizational chart
Top-down organizational chart

Upside-down organizational chart
Upside-down organizational chart