Will Dallas Fire Chief Louie Bright's Leadership Philosophy Ever Be Etched in Stone?

All weekend long I was pondering great moments in leadership. And then I thought about Dallas Fire Chief Louie Bright III.

Dallas firefighter Stanley Wilson burned to death May 20, 2013, when a building he and other firefighters were searching for survivors collapsed. Surviving firefighters said they were ordered to enter the building by incident commander Deputy Chief Bobby Ross.

A report released last week said Ross denied giving that order and told investigators he only told the firemen to walk around the building and break the windows.

Last Friday Chief Bright, flanked by his command staff, held a press conference in which Bright said of Wilson's death, "No one person bears all responsibility." He refused to take questions. When a radio reporter tried to ask a question anyway, one of Bright's cortege stiff-armed him.

In his remarks Bright seemed to say that even if the firefighters in the Wilson incident thought they had been ordered to enter the burning building, they should have been smart enough to disobey the order.

"Our firefighters are given the authority to weigh the risk of any orders given," Bright said, "and if there any actions that place firefighters in unnecessary jeopardy everyone has the authority and duty to speak out and consider alternatives."

I'm just thinking of this in terms of future wall plaques and words carved in stone. You know the kind of words I mean. Like, "Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way" from General George Patton. You see those kinds of plaques in corporate offices and government buildings.

Do you think we'll ever walk into some corporate headquarters or a high government office and see a plaque on the wall that says, "'No one person bears all the responsibility.' Louis Bright III?"

I tried to imagine some more of what Bright had to say Friday as if it were etched in stone and side by side with other great leadership quotes from history, like "It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle." -- General Norman Schwarzkopf

"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand." -- General Colin Powell

Or, "A good general not only sees the way to victory; he also knows when victory is impossible." -- Polybius

And then imagine that on the same wall you come to this one: "Everyone has the authority and duty to speak out and consider alternatives." -- Louis Bright III.

I always liked this one: "Never give an order that can't be obeyed." -- General Douglas MacArthur

Or, "I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself." -- Robert E. Lee

And then we have, "I do not believe discipline is merited." -- Louis Bright III

"My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence." -- General George Patton 

"Many firefighters at the scene, including those with decision-making authority, should have handled things differently that night." -- Louis Bright III

"'Tis skill, not strength, that governs a ship." -- Thomas Fuller

"During this incident, there was a breakdown in effective communication." -- Louis Bright III

"There are terrible, terrible memories of September 11th, things that I saw, people that I lost, the devastation, the identification of bodies. I mean, all these memories come back to you at different times. And then the other side of it this tremendous response with the firefighters and the police officers saving people, the rescue workers." -- Rudolph Giuliani.

"No one person bears all responsibility... I do not believe discipline is merited ... Everyone has the authority and duty to speak out and consider alternatives. " Louie Bright III

"I don't hear anybody chiseling yet." -- Jim Schutze I

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze