Leadership Is a ‘Lifestyle’ Built on Relationships

Garry Briese shares a lifetime of knowledge on building relationships and what leadership really means.

by / October 6, 2011
buddawiggi / Flickr CC buddawiggi / Flickr CC

Garry Briese is a consummate leader who says he is still learning. He is a well-known author and lecturer on leadership and on the future challenges for the public safety, emergency management and homeland security communities. Briese served as the administrator of FEMA Region 8 from 2008-2009 and has more than 36 years of experience in all levels of emergency services including local, state and national.

He shared his vision for leading in the 21st century with Emergency Management.

Question: Why do you think that everything rises or falls on leadership? What in your experience has taught you this?

The more I reflect on my own experiences, both the successes and failures, the more I believe in the importance of both leadership and followership. You cannot have leaders without followers.

While leaders may set the direction and validate the style of leadership that the organization values, the success of organizations is more the result of good followership rather than great leadership alone.

In fact, it is the actions of the followers that determine the success of the leader.

You mention that trust and relationships as basic to what are required for leadership. How do these two intersect with one another?

Interpersonal relationships are most important to success in all organizations today. They are even more important in times of organizational stress, emergencies and disasters. A key part of everyone’s job is to establish relationships with people in organizations who can help you accomplish your mission and who you can help accomplish their mission.

Relationships are, in turn, founded on trust. And the key ingredient in leadership is influence, not command and control or power. You are awarded the privilege of leadership by those who agree to follow.

Establishing relationships is critical in the world of emergency management. People generally recognize this fact but many times don't seem to work on the task to any great degree. Why is that?

It’s pretty simple: If it is not measured, and people are not held accountable, then we are signaling that establishing relationships is not important. I don’t know of any annual performance reviews that have “establishes relationships” as a heavily weighted component.

What is the connection between training, experience and education to competency and reputation? What derails some people in that regard?

The answer to your question requires a willingness for introspection and self-examination. Credentials, certification and classes do not translate into respect and the ability to execute.

We usually don’t have a problem identifying critical defining moments from our past. But preparing for those moments in the future is significantly more difficult but essential.

Moments of leadership and reputation often come from moments of uncertainty. These leadership moments disproportionately impact perceptions of competency and reputation.

If we’re not aware of these potential leadership moments, we risk having unintended and often negative qualities attributed to ourselves and our organizations. Once established, negative reputations are very difficult to change.

What is the interplay between individual and organizational reputations? What is the connection between the two?

Personal and organizational reputations are established over time and can be enhanced or damaged by a single defining moment. We all know organizations that are either respected or not respected as a result of perception of lack of competency or interpersonal challenges.

That organizational perception usually comes from the actions of individuals over time. We say something like, “It’s a good organization, but has some not-so-good people. They are just not easy to work with, either day-to-day or in emergencies.”

How do stereotypes impact one's ability to move forward and forge new relationships?

Stereotyping is one of the worst forms of discrimination. When we engage in assigning sweeping characteristics to people or organizations, we are exposing our own prejudices and biases. But it is possible to overcome stereotypes by sustained performance competency and relationships!

What role does networking in general play in relationships? How does networking add value in our interconnected world?

Earlier in my career I expected that my training, education and accomplishments would ensure success. I resented people who moved forward with what I perceived as fewer qualifications but better “connections.”

Eric Holdeman Contributing Writer

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

He can be reached by emailTwitter and Google+.

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