Organizational Leadership: Fire Services in the United States

Peter Moran (Bolton Institute of Higher Education, Department of Management, Bolton, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 1 May 2004



Moran, P. (2004), "Organizational Leadership: Fire Services in the United States", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 278-279.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Kime's work[1] does not lack ambition. The opening line of the preface states: “This volume is intended to begin the process of developing a new theory for organizational leadership”. He differentiates organizational leadership (OL) from notions of individuals who lead organizations by identifying the unit of analysis as the organization, rather than individual leaders. Kime defines OL as: “The capacity of the organization to respond to endogenous and exogenous stimuli, which present themselves as challenges, opportunities and threats to the organization”. OL is characterised as a combination of structural and normative characteristics inherent in the organization that facilitate or retard the ability of actors to perform assigned functions and innovate.

The book is arranged in six chapters. They address the Problem of organizational leadership; Theory and research on leadership; General systems, complexity and leadership; Measuring organizational leadership; Organizational leadership in the fire services; and Elaborating the concept of organizational leadership.

The dimensions for measuring OL are:

  • tolerance of employees challenging/questioning the organizations' basic assumptions;

  • the extent to which the organization values its human resources;

  • the perception of how the organization responds to failures/errors when responding to internal and external challenges;

  • the perception of decision‐making environment (participative vs directive);

  • the nature of communications; and

  • the organization's philosophy and practices for handling change.

The research method used to investigate these dimensions is a questionnaire with a five‐point Likert scale. The sample selected comprised 336 US fire departments of which, 242 (72 per cent) returned the questionnaire, which inquired into the dimensions listed above and number of other related (and apparently unrelated/unexplored) issues.

There are a number of strong features about this work and they include:

  • a welter of data on size, budget, managed incidents, shift size, labour/ management process etc., as they relate to OL;

  • a fundamentally sound introduction to complexity, general systems and leadership literature;

  • the clarity of its conceptual logic; and

  • Kime's understanding of OL as defined above stands in welcome contrast to those who narrate tales of corporate super‐heroism and/or villainy.

There are also a number of concerns and these include the following:
  • the single method of inquiry should have been supported with others, and perhaps a four‐point Likert scale would have been preferable to five, as this militates against “central bunching tendency”;

  • Of the questionnaires returned, 64.1 per cent were completed by Fire Chiefs, about which Kime says: “Critics may point out that this may entail some positive bias” (p. 103). Just so; and

  • the tendency to regard organizational culture as a single entity rather than one encompassing multiple sub‐cultures.

On a lesser note, there are a number of other irritations (perhaps personal to this reviewer, as maybe are those listed above), which may not spoil the enjoyment of a third party's reading. The narrative is repetitive in parts, his inclusion of non‐linear systems in the literature review falls short of a post structuralist/modernist interpretation of management and this theme is not “chased through” the empirical data presented to justify OL in the US Fire Service. Notwithstanding this, Chuck Kime may have begun the process of developing a new theory of OL and given his career in the Arizona Fire Department spanned more than 30 years until he reached senior executive level, grounding the study in the US Fire Service is a wise choice.

At the time of writing (November 2002), the English Fire Service are on the brink of industrial confrontation with the UK Government in pursuit of a 40 per cent pay claim. Combined with the attention focused upon the role of New York's fire service in the wake of 11 September 2001 and subsequently, this appeared a timely contribution to the literature. The chronology of publication, however, is a doubly cruel coincidence. First, because it appears to have been published either just before the attacks upon the twin towers (and the Pentagon) or just too late to incorporate their significance. Second, one interpretation of these events as indicative of the violent arrival of the postmodern condition ablates adherence to largely unadapted modernist interpretations of organization and its leadership.

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