Contributors, Leadership

Leaders Eat Last

What kind of leader are you?

By Michael DeStefano

Anyone that has ever broken bread together in the fire house knows that there are certain traditions that take place around this most sacred of times. These include things such as, the seat facing the TV is most likely the lieutenant’s, or rookie has kitchen – always – even if they didn’t cook. But there is another tradition that should be taking place, leaders eat last.

Everyone that knows me understands that I have the not so unique ability to become hangry. As a powerlifter I consume a large number of calories daily and get a bit moody when I don’t eat “on time”. Everyone that has ever invited me to their station or been on my crew also knows that despite my incredible hulk hangry demeanor, I always eat last. Is this because I like to test my ability to remain calm? Or is it because I want to strike fear into those around the table? Nope, it is because I consider myself a leader and they are MY crews.

So what does it mean to “eat last”? We have all heard the term servant leadership and despite what everyone wants to believe, not every leader is a servant leader. A servant leader is the person who puts themselves last in line to provide the tools and the resources for their team members to succeed at whatever task they are handed. The servant leader puts his or her own projects and agendas on the side to help those around them accomplish their projects.

Leaders eat last is more than just allowing the crew to eat dinner before you. However, I do believe this is the easiest task to start with and have seen many lieutenants that I consider great leaders inadvertently doing this very thing. Allowing their crews to eat before them in case they get a call or there is not enough food to go around sets the example that the leader is there to support them.

A servant-leader is always looking for ways to put the needs and goals of his crew above himself. (Wayne Barrall photo)

A servant leader needs to look at the goals of their employees as their number one focus. Helping their crews take on and accomplish challenges. Leading the organization to meet its overall goal by helping the employees they oversee to rise to the challenge, feel empowered, and provide the resources to succeed. When our crews are successful, we as leaders are successful. You can have 500 ribbons pinned to your uniform with a certificate and degree from every university that exists. But if your crews are not successful at their goals, you are nothing more than a leader of one.

So what kind of leader are you? Are you the one that jumps up when the dinner bell is rang to make sure you get the best burger or to make sure you get your serving of potatoes before they run out? Or are you the one that sits back to make sure the crew is fed before you sit down to eat? I suggest you take a hard look at how you lead your companies and employees and make sure that you are eating last.

Michael DeStefano is a lieutenant and currently assigned to the training division with Brevard County (FL) Fire Rescue. He began his career in 2004 at a small three-station paid department in Winter Springs, Florida, as a firefighter/EMT-B. In 2005, he moved to Brevard County, taking on the role of firefighter/paramedic in 2006. He has an associate’s degree from Eastern Florida State College in fire science and a bachelor’s degree from Barry University in public administration.