Dr. Reginald Freeman, Fire Chief of the city of Oakland, outlines the principles of Full Spectrum Leadership, a holistic approach to leadership that focuses on achieving results, building effective relationships, energizing teams and modeling personal excellence, integrity, and accountability. These five pillars provide a comprehensive framework for leaders to succeed in their roles and positively impact their teams and organizations.  


Craig Weaver: From Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, a leader in emergency response training: Response Leadership—a podcast bringing you leadership expertise from the top minds in emergency response. Dr. Reginald Freeman serves as fire chief for the city of Oakland, California, and has previously served as fire chief for other jurisdictions, private industry and the military. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in leadership, he has a master’s in executive Fire Service Leadership and a Ph.D. in Emergency and Protective Services. 

Dr. Reginald Freeman: Thank you so much for that very warm introduction. And again, my name is Dr. Reginald Deon Freeman. I am the 31st Fire Chief for the City of Oakland in the beautiful Bay area in northern California. And today, I’m very excited to talk with you about Full-Spectrum Leadership. So as public servants, it does not matter what our job title is, we all have the same mission and that is to serve and to be of service. And leadership we’ve talked about it frequently. Doesn’t matter if you’re at a conference, doesn’t matter if you’re amongst your friends, or even in the workplace. Leadership is it is a discussion that comes up often and full-spectrum leadership has proven to be able to deliver results for those who practice it. Now, there are other popular leadership philosophies and ideologies out there. You have Servant Leadership which was established by Robert K Greenleaf in 1970. That was a Christian-based leadership philosophy that he established in an essay that he wrote, which just simply turns the organizational chart upside down. So, it’s not that the Fire Chief, Police Chief or the Director of Public Works, it’s not that every member of the organization works for them, it is those persons in the highest position of authority within the organization, they actually work for every single member of the team. Doesn’t matter their tenure. And then you have Transformational Leadership, which is also very popular and practiced day in and day out.  

Now there are a few different models of Transformational Leadership, and the latest and most popular is a model that was introduced by Bernard Bass in 1985. So Transformational Leadership is truly based off of being inclusive, empowering members of the team to make a difference, giving them the resources that they need to be successful and getting out of their way, and letting them do their job. But Full-Spectrum Leadership arguably brings all of those elements together, and it is founded in the principles of first and foremost: deliver results, shape the future, build effective relationships, energize the team, and last and certainly not least, model personal excellence, integrity and accountability.  

So first, let’s talk a little bit about deliver results. I think we can all say we’ve been in positions to where we have not had the opportunity to truly exercise our duties and responsibilities for one reason or another, whether it be we didn’t have all the information that we needed to adequately do our jobs, communication was lackluster or there were barriers, whether they be internal or external, for us being able to actually deliver results. But leaders, leaders are ultimately responsible for delivering results, and that means consistently meeting expectations and delivering value to our customers and our stakeholders. And oftentimes in public safety or from a public servant perspective, we tend to shy away from using the term “customers.” But that’s truly, truly who we are serving, whether they are residents or visitors to our respective jurisdictions. And so, customer, stakeholder, internal stakeholder versus external stakeholder, it really doesn’t matter. Delivering results starts with us first. We have to first communicate what our needs are to those persons in positions of authority above us. If they don’t know what we need, how can we expect for them to deliver their duties and responsibilities so that we can adequately perform day in and day out?  

So, it’s easy, very easy to be very critical of a supervisor or very critical of a manager or Senior Officer. But we first have to look at ourselves to see if there is something that we could have done differently. Is there something that we could have said in a more appropriate fashion to garner the results that we’re looking for? And what I mean by saying things in a more appropriate fashion is asking open-ended questions and asking very direct questions for that matter. People cannot, we cannot assume that people understand exactly what we need. And if we adequately communicate consistently to those persons who can help us be successful, everyone wins. The department wins, our respective team wins, and our customers as well as our internal as well as external stakeholders, they win.  

Next, Shaping the Future. So, for the first time in the history of the United States, we have four or more generations working. That is monumental. And that is something that I don’t think we discuss enough; is how do we ensure that everyone’s needs are being met? If you look at the needs of a Baby Boomer versus the needs of a member of Gen Z, they are distinctly different. Now I happened to be part of the greatest generation there ever was, which is Generation X, and we say all the time that we have to have a work-life balance. But newsflash, folks, we say it, but we don’t really mean it. We’re still workaholics and we judge those folks who don’t take up voluntary overtime. We judge those folks who don’t sign up for extra assignments and they happen to be a member of a different generation and they have different values than what we have. It does not make them a bad person. It’s just we have to have an understanding of what their needs are so they can have a true feeling of belonging within the organization. And part of shaping the future is first and foremost communicating expectations. 

We have to communicate expectations and then, of course, ask those individuals who are most impacted, are you clear on what direction I have given? If that answer is no, and oftentimes it might if you’re talking to a millennial or a member of Gen Z, then it is your job, it is your duty to explain. If you are in a position of authority, you have a duty to explain, but not a duty to debate, and that is something that I think we forget quite often. So, shaping the future means empowering those folks who are doing the work to be part of the process, and the process could be monumental, or it can be minute. But if those individuals who are doing the work, if their fingerprints are on the knife, as I like to call it, then it’s harder for them to fire shots or to be critical about the decisions that are made or the direction that the organization is going.  

And so, standing up committees, for example, if you are a member of Public Works or a supervisor or a manager in Public Works and the director has given you a task that you have to now give to your team leads and your technicians, instead of dictating to the team what the tasks are going to be, ask them a simple question, a question that we don’t ask enough, what do you think? Tom or Jane, Mary? How do you think we should go about doing this because you do this job every single day? Making them part of the process empowers them and it really gets buy-in from all members of the organization and that’s why it’s important to have representation from all levels of the organization, and when you are having these discussions. It will make your job easier as that person in position of authority and it gives the members of the team a sense of them being valued.  

Also, part of shaping the future is ensuring that there is a relevant and robust professional development program. Now there’s many different ways you can go about establishing a professional development program. These programs can be very complex, or they can be simple. Something that has worked very well for me in the past is standing up a professional development committee with representation of not just every rank or every level within the organization, but also the bargaining unit. The bargaining unit has to be at the table, whether you have a recognized contractor or not. If there is a bargaining unit within your organization, they should have a seat at the table and be part of this discussion. 

You can also, instead of paying for classes that members may need, something as simple as covering their time or covering their spot while they’re attending a class that they sought after, and they secured on their own with their own funds. That increases morale, that again lets them know that you care about their growth and their development. And as that individual is made better, that respective team is better. As that team is made better, that division is better, and if that division is better than it has a positive impact on the entire organization. So, creating a professional development is truly the best way to ensure that you are shaping the future and setting up the team for success long after you’re gone. 

Now, coupled with a professional development program, a very relevant succession plan should also be developed at the same time. Now, the succession plan is very simple. It sounds complex, but it is only identifying known vacancies or projected vacancies, identifying candidates to fill those positions, and ensuring that those individuals are properly prepared prior to their promotion. That is very important. It’s something that we do not do enough as public servants in local government or even state agencies. And with the succession plan, you will have identified mentors and proteges with specific objectives that are identified that they work towards. But the most important element of a succession plan is the follow-up to ensure that these target objectives are being met and there’s intervention or assistance granted where needed.  

Next, as we talk about Full-Spectrum Leadership is building effective relationships. Now, leaders need to be able to establish and maintain strong, enduring and effective relationships throughout the entire organization. That’s internal, but then also we have to build relationships with our external stakeholders and community as well. So as public servants, it doesn’t matter again, if we’re talking about law enforcement, public works or fire emergency services, being able to have discussions, being able to be transparent is critically important to building trust in any relationship. A relationship is grounded and founded on trust and communication.  

So, there’s plenty of opportunities with the numerous community events that are delivered throughout the year within our respective jurisdictions that we can attend by different hosts, and we can also host events ourselves. If we tell our story, then we do not get other people to tell their story, which may be very different from ours. And so, it’s so critically important to highlight the great things that the members of our team are doing. And we can do this, of course, in person, in meetings or community events, or even utilize social media to highlight the great work that our members are doing. And so, for me, what has worked very well before in the past is visiting firehouses and having one on one meetings with the members of the organization. The first time that anyone should see the person in the highest position of authority within the organization, the first time that they see them should not be during an emergency or during a problem. That’s not cultivating and building effective relationships. We should know individuals within our respective jurisdictions that have either realized influence or idealized influence within our respective cities or towns. And that’s not just elected officials or department heads, nonprofit leaders, but also, even community stakeholders who show up at city council meetings or community events, who have questions, or who simply have a voice, who may have some input on what we do and how we do it that may make us more effective in the long run. 

So, after building effective relationships as it pertains to Full-Spectrum Leadership, we can look at energizing the team. Now, you could say, well, Dr. Freeman, we can do that by implementing some of the stuff you already mentioned, which is true. But leaders must create a positive, engaging work environment where people can develop and excel and foster a diverse and inclusive culture that builds trust and aligns with the overall mission. Any and everything that we do should be grounded and founded in our organizational statements. And when I say organizational statements, I specifically mean our mission statement, our vision statement, and our identified values. Now, all three should be revisited at the minimum every five years, and it should not mean that the chief or the director is dictating what the mission, the vision and the values are. Just as we talked about empowerment earlier, every person within the organization at every level should have an opportunity to weigh in on what our mission and our vision and our values are. And we look at it every five years because the mission may change, our vision may change, and also our values may change depending on the climate.  

And so, it’s so very important to ensure that every person has an opportunity to feel as if they are valued because we tell them that they are valued, we have to show it. Words are only words unless we take appropriate action. And so, energizing the team could simply mean that you are having one-on-one conversations with members. Energizing the team can mean that you are keeping them involved and up to date on critical happenings that impact the organization on a regular basis that can be conveyed in person or via email through the department. And of course, energizing the team means that you are present. We have to be present, and I’ve experienced this going to a firehouse after assuming command as the outside chief and a senior firefighter, says, Chief, we just want to give you our station T-shirt because you’re the first fire chief that’s come to this firehouse in well over eight years.  

Now, that’s something that was very humbling to me, but also, disappointing. I can only imagine being those firefighters who sacrifice life and limb, who rarely had interaction with the chief of the department, and they were actually thanking me for me just doing my job, me showing them that they are valued. That one act and one act alone certainly, energized the team. And so, we all have choices, we all have decisions to make. But if we put the membership first, those choices and decisions are simple.  We should never hesitate to let everyone knows how much they’re valued. We should never hesitate to let everyone know that they are appreciated, and we should never hesitate to simply say thank you for the job that they do day in and day out.  

And last but not least, we’re going to talk a little bit about model personal excellence, integrity and accountability. And if you look at headlines for things that get people that are in positions of authority in trouble, it’s typically because of one of those three things, and I would only dare say rivaled only by fiscal mismanagement. But when we talk about modeling personal excellence, integrity and accountability, leaders at all levels are role models for the members of the team, rather they intend to be or not. They must demonstrate a commitment to personal excellence and set a high standard for ethical behavior and integrity. It’s hard to win members of the team back when you have been dishonest. It’s hard to win them back when you have not been forthright, and it’s certainly hard to win them back when you have lacked integrity overall.  

So that model that we demonstrate by pursuing excellence and having excellence as the standard and not the exception that is infectious, we should never do anything at the minimum standard if we put ourselves in a position to be successful as an organization by ensuring that, first and foremost Everyone knows what the expectations are. And then secondly, you are your members’ advocate, that will always go a long way. In accountability, we find ourselves in a position of being hesitant to hold individuals accountable for the simple fact, we may make someone unhappy. One of the hardest things to do as a public safety officer, is the transition from buddy to boss. To go from being the street police officer to a sergeant or that line firefighter to a lieutenant, because now you’re having to supervise your friends and some people make that transition better than others. But when we go from buddy to boss, it has to be done in a manner to where if they were truly your friends, they would never put you in a position where you have to manage them. And notice throughout this entire conversation, I continue to say “position of authority” and not necessarily say “leader”. It actually takes action to exercise leadership. If we don’t exercise leadership, there was nothing more than a person in position of authority. There’s also a distinct difference between a leader and a manager. Managers manage, leaders lead. But we talk about inspiration and motivation. Those two ideologies consistently get confused and mixed up with one another. Only leaders can inspire. Managers motivate by either punitive means or fiscal means. Leaders through their example, leaders through their advocacy, leaders through them consistently doing the right thing, they inspire, and they influence. 

And that is something that we can all do more of. And a gentle reminder that what we do and how we do it is being watched whether we realize it not. And so, with those elements of Full-Spectrum Leadership, there is plenty of opportunity to be successful. Is it going to be easy? Absolutely not. Anything worth having does not come easy. But going back to the choices and the decisions that we have as leaders in positions of authority, if we put our members first if we continue to be their advocate, if we lead with honor, integrity and model personal excellence, we can cultivate healthy relationships. We can energize the team. And that is something that makes our organization special, by improving the quality of life at work for our members and having our members first and foremost in every single decision that we make, that is what’s going to help us deliver positive results for the organization.

Also, another word that you do not hear me use is “employees.” So, if you have an inclusive work environment that puts the members first, you don’t have employees. You have either a team member or family member. We spend so much of our time with the members that we execute our mission with to where they can’t simply just be an employee or coworker. But if you walk into that job, walk through that mindset, that mindset that you are serving with your team member or your family member, everyone benefits. And that’s something that they see and more importantly it is something that they feel. Something that I’ve said all the time, it’s an old cliché that you all have probably heard is people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care. Well, I’ve tweaked it a little bit. People don’t care what you know until they can feel how much you care. And that is the difference between someone just coming to work, doing their job, and someone who wants to work for you because they respect you because you influence them to do better and to be better. You inspire them to be the best possible version of themselves while they are serving, wearing that uniform or serving and executing their duties and their responsibilities. And so, with Full-Spectrum Leadership similar to Transformational Leadership and Servant Leadership, we have the opportunity to make individuals better and make our organization better, especially with four different generations in the workplace. And so, I thank you for your time and I thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about Full-Spectrum Leadership, and I look forward to the great things you’re going to do as you implement these critical imperatives. 

Craig Weaver: Thanks for listening to Response Leadership brought to you by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. Follow us or visit teex.org/podcast to listen. 

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