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Fight the good fight: Focus on the positive as you nurture new leaders

Motivating others to achieve their maximum potential involves deflecting negativity and focusing on what’s good


“Amid the work to push forward, growing a new crop of leaders, there does exist the resistant factor of negativity that can easily derail the work of well-meaning leaders. Fortunately, the reality is that there’s just as much, if not more, positivity happening around us every day,” writes Bashoor.


When you really consider the power of leadership and evaluate the actions of successful leaders, the truest responsibility of leaders emerges: to develop tomorrow’s leaders. Yes, there’s much more that goes into being a successful leader, but cultivating tomorrow’s leaders will not only bolster the leader’s legacy but also foster long-term organizational success.

Amid the work to push forward, growing a new crop of leaders, there does exist the resistant factor of negativity that can easily derail the work of well-meaning leaders. Fortunately, the reality is that there’s just as much, if not more, positivity happening around us every day. We don’t feel it as much, because the negative forces are almost always “louder” than the positive, even when it’s one negative factor among countless more positive factors.

So, how do we motivate others to be successful when it seems so many are trying to draw others into the spin of negativity?

Why we focus on the negative

A quick review of endorphins may help explain why we tend to be reactive to the negative while we rest content to the positive. Endorphins are a hormone released to combat pain. It is therefore helpful to think of negativity in terms of pain or threats and positivity in terms of a non-threatening or happy environment.

  • When we’re happy, we’re typically quiet, unexcited and in a state of contentment. Think of this like a beehive, everybody busily but happily buzzing along doing their part, or even a balloon, lazily floating around. It is easy to be quiet in this state when everything’s going well. There’s nothing exceptional happening.
  • When something irritates or agitates us, it’s like a bear putting their paw in the beehive or someone sticking a pin in that balloon. With the beehive, all hell breaks loose as the bees swarm to defend their home or, with the balloon, it blows around in a frenetic swirl as it expels its air.

Simple metaphors, I know; however, the swarming bees and the frenetic balloon represent the reactions we observe in firefighters who repeatedly respond to the negative influences around them. Little work gets done while they turn to focus on the negativity battle.

For most people in such an agitated state, the brain recognizes the threat and begins producing endorphins to calm the body.

It is a natural human tendency to respond to perceived threats. How that response manifests is what typically causes us trouble. Sometimes we respond to negativity because of previous experiences or our biases on the topic. Other times, it may be because we don’t know enough about the subject and feel inferior or professionally challenged – or conversely, we may know a LOT about the topic and feel that it’s being presented incorrectly. Either way, we tend to occupy a lot of time on this state of negativity. In many cases, we’re really trying to control the space with our viewpoint, or challenging the notions someone else has presented, again, so we can control the direction of the conversation. None of this is healthy, and focusing on negativity is almost always a huge waste of time.

The personal 360: Set the example

As leaders, it is our responsibility to set an example of positivity and provide a nurturing environment where firefighters can focus on that positive, develop their skills, and achieve their maximum potential. I fully recognize it’s not easy to maintain that positive environment with so many negative influences around us, but consider how much more we could get done if we proactively avoided certain conversations at the firehouse, like those that create wars within ourselves – discussions of religion, sex and politics, to name a few.

Following the personal tetrahedron I’ve presented to you before, it is critical for you to set the example for your members, focusing on good physical/nutritional goals and exhibiting solid moral principles. Plus, ensure that you are in a stable mental state and that you’re capable of helping your firefighters maintain the public trust. The moral and mental focus can manifest in many ways but perhaps most often these days in our social media activity. Instead of getting caught up in the negativity, focus on the positive and motivational posts that help people focus more on what’s right, less on what’s wrong. While we cannot always avoid the negative, we CAN avoid sensationalizing the negative or engaging in pointless social media exchanges.

The public trust holds the basic principles that we will show up at the right place, at the right time, with the right people and equipment to do the right things – and that we will do no more harm than has already been done. There is no room for negativity when maintaining the public trust.

Fight the good fight – for positivity

It is true that you cannot control the actions of every one of your firefighters. You can, however, set the example and do the right things, both in advance and on the backend of retraining and discipline.

We’re all different, and I acknowledge that every day may involve some type of battle. The important thing is to keep fighting the good fight and doing the right thing. If your negativity is being created by long-term influences, try shortening your view by focusing on short-term wins that can positivity influence long-term success.

And remember, with respect to social media postings, you control what you post. Set a positive example, don’t become the negative example. Don’t make permanent decisions when you’re temporarily upset.

Chief Marc S. Bashoor joined the Lexipol team in 2018, serving as the FireRescue1 and Fire Chief executive editor and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board. With 40 years in emergency services, Chief Bashoor previously served as public safety director in Highlands County, Florida; as chief of the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Fire/EMS Department; and as emergency manager in Mineral County, West Virginia. Chief Bashoor assisted the NFPA with fire service missions in Brazil and China, and has presented at many industry conferences and trade shows. He has contributed to several industry publications. He is a National Pro-board certified Fire Officer IV, Fire Instructor III and Fire Instructor. Connect with Chief Bashoor at on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Do you have a leadership tip or incident you’d like to discuss? Send the chief an email.