Forest fire leadership: too hot to deal with


This topic is probably too hot to deal with, but it's gone.

Did you watch the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show? What did you think? I have seen very few "meh" comments or emoticons on my social networks. What I can tell you is that my friends loved it or hated it. Shakira and J Lo made people talk. But did Shakira and J Lo have executive command / presence?

I have never been one to watch the Super Bowl, let alone the halftime show. I'm in it for the commercials. This year, I was so selfless that I worked on my taxes while my husband and our friends were chatting. Only one of us was remote in the game and the ads really didn't catch anyone. It was the half-time show that made our house talk and lit up my social media feeds for days. What caught our attention? It was more than the fireworks and the shock and fear of the cabinets and body movements; it was something less tangible and much bigger. I saw it as command / executive presence.

In his book Executive presence, Sylvia Ann Hewlett describes the presence of executives as:

  • a combination of trust, balance and authenticity – Check; at least the first and the last
  • an alagram [blend] qualities that you wire or deserve to be – Check
  • an image measure: if you signal to others that you have what it takes, that you are a featured material – Check

Shakira and J Lo are qualified interpreters; and as such have a lot to tell us about the presence of command / executive. Each woman, separately and together, has captured the attention of millions of people around the world. Whether you feel that their performance adds to or detracts from their ability to hold your attention probably has more to do with your value system than anything else. There is no question that either woman lacked confidence or authenticity. Both were in charge of the stage and had the power of the stars.

Hewlett suggests that the presence of the executive rests on three pillars:

  • How you act (gavitas)
  • How you speak (communication)
  • How you look (appearance)

This brings me to something else that Hewlett talks about in his book: appearance. We've all heard that first impressions can make or break you. True story. Hewlett calls it a "first critical filter". I'm sure a lot of viewers were touched by these first few minutes of the performance. After this first impression, the appearance does not really affect the presence of the command. Tune leaders must be well cared for and polite, but that is something we can learn. The two women were well cared for, polite and able to command.

Are J Lo and Shakira the type of leader you would follow? Maybe not, but I think they had what it took to command the stage and their audience. Could they have done certain things differently and appealed to viewers? Perhaps, but the value systems are too varied to please everyone. For some, they were too hot to handle.


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.

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