Four Important Mental Health Leadership Lessons

International Association of Fire Chiefs – IAFC


April 2021

Chief Patrick J. Kenny

Leadership can be a lonely road and one where gleaning wisdom from those who have walked the leadership path can shorten your journey to being a successful leader. I have been in the fire service for 38 years and have certainly had my share of lessons. Here are the top four that I want to share with you. I hope you find them useful in the coming year to strengthen your leadership regarding mental health.

Lesson 1 – Mission, Men, Me

I have a wall hanging in my office as a reminder of good leadership which has three tiers to it.




It faces me every morning when I walk into my office, reminding me that it’s not about me; it’s about the mission, and to get to the mission, I have to take care of my people. When it comes to mental health, leaders need to take care of their people. However, sometimes you do have to think about yourself first. That probably goes against every leadership principle that exists, but if you’re not mentally healthy, you can’t take care of those who serve next to you. If you fail in the fundamental area of self-care, your mission will never be accomplished.

The ability to stand back and realize you need to put yourself first sometimes is what separates real leaders from pretenders. I call them pretenders because they always must pretend they’re in control and have all the answers. It’s their way of proving their own status. They exhibit strength and bravery when, in reality, real courage is knowing when to reach out for help. Honestly, it took me a long time to understand that revelation and then put it into practice. I see the value of putting my physical, emotional, and spiritual health first to take care of my family, my firefighters, and to accomplish the mission.

Lesson 2 – Seek Professional Help For You/Others

Do you and your firefighters have a therapist you can turn to when faced with mental health concerns?

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