As a leader of a diverse set of formal and informal teams, the successful IC needs to be able to play a number of roles at different points in time—as executive, as innovator, as teacher, and as pastor. The IC supervises and directs a variety of specialists drawn from a variety of organizations— Federal, State, local, and/or county. Additionally, she or he interacts with a multitude of partners, community-based groups, interested citizens, residents, and business owners. The ability to switch among various roles and appeal to people from various backgrounds and stakeholder groups would seem to require a high and sustained level of ESI, in addition to a high degree of technical competence in wildland fire behavior and wildland fire management strategies and tactics.
Previous applied research into successful team dynamics in wildland fire management—mostly through the lenses of high-reliability organizing (see, for example, Black and McBride 2013; Black and others 2012; Fox and others 2017; Jahn and Black 2017; Useem and others 2005; Waldron and Ebbeck 2015) and learning organizational theory (see, for example, Black 2009; Black and Dether 2006)—confirms that highperforming teams and their leaders need to display openness, nondefensiveness, and a willingness and ability to consider and integrate diverse perspectives. These are core ESI behaviors (Druskat and Wolff 2001). Since ESI competencies can be acquired through training as well as nurtured through experience, the first author was curious about which ESI competencies are most valuable in incident command, how well the current wildland fire training and development system is nurturing these important skills, and where we might look for future improvements. To find out, the first author contracted with the second, a leading scholar in the study of ESI and leadership competencies and performance at Case Western Reserve University, to conduct a study of the ESI necessary in incident command (Boyatzis 1982, 2018).
Boyatzis and others (2017) interviewed ICs1 using a critical incident technique in which each IC was asked to tell a story about a time when “he/she felt effective (then ineffective) as an IC.” Interviews were recorded and transcribed, then coded for presence and frequency of each of the 12 ESI competencies most consistently related to effectiveness of leaders in various fields.