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Lessons From Emergency Managers: Why It’s Important to Like People


In a recent leadership development program for emergency managers from many of the largest cities in the country, Corner Alliance invited experienced leaders from the emergency management community to share their experiences and what they think are important leadership traits. These people are at the top of their game and clearly know something about leadership.

When we asked students what leadership lessons they took away after hearing from the experienced leaders, we expected answers along the lines of “you have to be an expert in the field,” “you have to be able to hold people accountable” and “you have to be decisive.” That’s not what we heard. Instead, they said you have to:

  • Have the courage to follow your instincts
  • Know yourself in order to know how to approach and work with others
  • Understand people’s motivations and know where they are coming from
  • Think outside the box: If you think you hear a horse coming, imagine it’s a zebra
  • Be sincere and authentic, you can’t “act” leadership
  • Understand the power of convening
  • Like people

Certainly many of these lessons aren’t surprising. But the one that really caught our attention was the need to like people. It struck us as so obvious, yet we don’t recall ever hearing it as part of the larger discourse around what it takes to practice effective leadership.

As is the case with the infinite debate about what leadership is, there are those who might argue, perhaps successfully, that one can be an effective leader if they don’t like people. But there is great wisdom in that simple lesson. One that might be the best test for whether someone is truly up to the responsibilities of being a leader.

What leadership qualities do you think are the most important?

(Image via cvm/

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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