Forest Fire Leadership: Dress Up Leadership


Most of us have learned the density of liquids through scientific experiments in primary schools.

The physical property of density helps scientists separate liquids. When two liquids are placed in a container, the denser liquid will fall to the bottom. The less dense liquid will rise to the top. (PowerKnowledge – Physical Sciences)

We apply this lesson when we take the vial of dressing or do it from scratch. Oil and vinegar do not mix. Let stand, liquids separate; the oil will rise and the vinegar will flow. Our liquid density / salad dressing analogy can also be applied to leadership.

What happens when you put a diverse group of people who don't know each other in a room without any education? Like the separation that occurs in our salad dressing, people will form groups – oils and vinegars (and maybe a few pieces of garlic and pepper hanging in the middle).

A salad dressing or a team needs an emulsifier to mix things up and link these together to something new. In the case of a vinaigrette, an emulsifier may be an egg or milk; while a leader is an emulsifier of people. Unfortunately, not all emulsifiers are created equal. (Watch the video of the water-oil emulsion.) Some are less stable than others.

Forest Fire Leadership Challenge – Dig a little deeper

  • Evaluate your team. Have groups formed within the team, forming an "us" versus "them" environment?
  • Evaluate your leadership. Are you a stable or unstable leader?
  • Consider team building activities that promote cohesion.
  • Lead by example. Do what you say and say what you want to say. Inconsistency does not mix!


Pam McDonald is a writer and editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and a member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.