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Keys to a Positive Culture in the Fire Services or Anywhere

Create a culture that assumes good intentions when errors are made rather than incompetence.

“Life is 10 percent of what happens to me, and 90 percent how I react to it”.

Most of us have heard this famous life quote over the years, but do we truly apply it into our daily leadership practices and routines? We have all worked with or for someone who is continually complaining about how hard it is to be successful; how things are unfair; the continual excuses on why things are just not working. We have seen how a negative attitude left unchecked creates a toxicity where nobody thrives.

A positive attitude is contagious but not always easy to maintain. As leaders, we continually face setbacks and challenges which make it hard to see the glass as half full. The good news, a positive attitude is your choice! The bad news is negativity is also contagious and is also a choice. Creating the environment for Positivity is not easy but nobody ever said that leadership is easy? As a leader it is your responsibility to do so.

The overwhelming majority of the people you lead want to be a part of success and to see how their contributions are making the difference. There is only a very small percentage of people who do not fit into that category and you must deal with them swiftly, but separately. Treat them individually and not as the entire team. Praise in public, coach in private.

Create a culture that assumes good intentions when errors are made rather than incompetence. When there is a “failure”, encourage a positive approach and make sure that it is a “fail forward” by learning from the undesired outcome. Create a culture where there can be conflicts with processes or ideas but not with people. Promote creative thinking and innovation and proactively build relationships by looking out for one another. Create an environment that fosters a culture that when a team member sees something going wrong, they are expected to speak up regardless of rank or tenure. Push decision making to information, not to authority. Knowledge is limited power, shared knowledge is a force for success.

Lastly, and most importantly, hire the heart and train the hands. We often get so focused on skills on a resume that we overlook the critical nature of heart and desire to succeed and being part of a successful team. I will take the team member who is capable, trainable, and displays Positivity that wants to be part of a winning team over the most skilled applicant that wants a “job” every time.

You are the leader. Your organization and your team will develop a culture. You have a choice in whether to allow the culture to develop on its own or to create an intentional culture. Choose the latter, watch the team flourish and succeed, and share the success.

Wherever you lead, whether it is in the fire services like Mike or anywhere else, the leader is responsible for the culture of the organization. As Mike said, culture is going to happen. The question is whether the culture is a positive one or a negative one. No matter which culture is evident, it is a reflection of the leader’s intentionality towards Positivity.

I (Dave) first met Mike Morgan at a leadership conference for leaders in the fire services in the state of Colorado. I quickly realized that Mike’s positive attitude is contagious. People want to be around him because he brings out the best in others - me included. He is the leader of the Department of Fire Protection and Control for the state of Colorado. His department is on the frontlines fighting wildfires within their state. They are men and women who never shy away from doing hard things and they do those hard things with Positivity. That attitude emanates from their leader.

Mike Morgan, is currently the Director of Fire Prevention and Control of the State of Colorado. He leads a team of over 400 dedicated professionals. He has spent 30 years serving his community and the Colorado fire service.

Mike served for over 10 years on the Colorado State Fire Chiefs’ Board of Directors (including two terms as President). He is a recipient of the coveted John M. Buckman III Leadership Award, presented by the International Association of Fire Chief’s.

Learn more about Mike Morgan here: Director Morgan


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