Wildfire Leadership: Presence of Command


Growing up near Sun Valley, Idaho, winter sports were popular. Although Sun Valley is famous for skiing, ice skating fascinates many people. I appreciated the graceful men and women who slipped on the ice, jumped and spun as they went. I had no idea that my fascination with skating would become the impetus for a leadership blog some 45 years later.

So, Pam, what does ice skating have to do with leadership, specifically the presence of command? Today's reflections are inspired by the movie "The Cutting Edge". I know it's a stretch, but stay with me.

Develop the presence of orders with The Cutting Edge

In the 1978 film, Doug Dorsey, an Olympic ice hockey player played by D. B. Sweeney, is paired with Kate Moseley, a world-class figure skater played by Moira Kelly. Dorsey is a marginalized ice hockey player, while Moseley is a talented but spoiled ice skater with a huge attitude.

The film is really a love story; however, I will focus on an underlying leadership issue – the presence of the command or its absence. Although both are talented athletes, both have barriers to success (in this case, winning an Olympic medal). Dorsey is considered the macho hate and figure skater; Moseley, the spoiled brat that no partner can bear. Neither Dorsey nor Moseley is clear about who they are or how they are seen by others. The only way for the pair to succeed is to change from the inside and the other.

Knowing who you are and how you are seen by others is the foundation of your command presence. Fortunately for Dorsey and Moseley, the presence of command can be developed. Unfortunately, the development of the command presence is accompanied by an "advantage" – it is not easy to change. We must unlearn the habits and behaviors that are at the heart of our action. Change is hard work, and when it means being vulnerable and exposing yourself to harsh truths, we tend to avoid pain and stay the same. When this happens to a leader, the followers distance themselves. Without followers, there is no leadership. And just like Dorsey and Moseley, no matter how good you are, you will never succeed. The mission will be compromised.

I'm not going to spoil the film for you, but I will say that the two characters have changed. They changed because they had a common goal and because they cared about each other. It is no different for us as leaders. Leadership is teamwork. Of course we are heading, but we can also lose sight of who we are.

I know the presence of control is much deeper than this analogy, but the point raised in the film is clear. If people can't stand being around you, you have to change; your team members are unlikely to do so. And just as important is that you don't have to do it alone. Sure, you do the heavy lifting, but with the right team, champions are born!

Forest Fire Leadership Development Challenge – Dig a little deeper

  • Look good and hard. What do you see?
    • Are you revered or rejected by your team?
    • Have you created a leadership environment that allows honest sharing?
    • Are you ready to be better?
  • Be aware of the choices you make and the actions you take or fail to take. Consider keeping a record of these decisions / actions and their results.


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.

WFLDP 2020 campaign logo

# 2020WFLDPCampaign #commandpresence #fireleadership