Trending Topics

How to develop a personal mission statement

Key questions to get you started

Businessman Holding Pen To Sign

What’s your personal mission statement?

AndreyPopov/Getty Images

Written by former Delta Force Operator Pete Blaber, the book “The Mission, The Men, and Me” drives home the simple and powerful principle that “being ready” trumps having a “perfect plan” any time. So, let’s get you ready.

You’ve likely heard someone say, “If you want to succeed here, you need to take the work personally.” As a young volunteer firefighter, I recall the repetitiveness of washing fire trucks, racking hose, throwing ladders and, yes cleaning the toilets – every day, sometimes more than once. It’s all the same principles as the book: You will need to be ready if you expect to succeed.

We didn’t keep up the repetitiveness at the firehouse because we “didn’t get it” or “couldn’t do it.” We kept it up because we wanted to be the best in the business, and we cared how we looked doing it and, most importantly, because we wanted to be ready. I see that same pride in firehouses today – sometimes to different degrees, yet as a culture we care, and we want to look good doing it, and we want to be ready.

Follow the KISS principle

Remember when you first got hired or joined your local VFD? They likely gave you some books to read, some papers to fill out and disclosures to sign. Somewhere in there was probably a copy of your organization’s mission, vision and values.

Understanding the mission was really your first test – the first step in understanding why you were getting ready to do whatever it was you were going to do. If your department had a mission statement, I suspect that it was a verbose regurgitation of an epiphany that once came to some administrator from the past. I don’t need people to memorize a paragraph; I need them to be ready to fulfill the mission. Keep the organizational mission statements simple, like the KISS principle – “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Something that no one ever asked me in those formative years was, “What is your personal mission statement?” Now, if someone had asked me this back then, I likely would have blurted some incoherent words or telegraphed a diatribe that somewhat matched the lengthy organization mission statement we had.

But if you think about it, how can you possibly be ready to achieve the organizational mission if you don’t know what you stand for on a personal level? Sure, as a younger firefighter, it’s not quite as meaningful, nor urgent, for you to focus on the long-term future you’ll have within the organization. I get it, you’re just trying to survive and learn everything you can.

At some point, you will need to evolve your thinking into understanding that you are part of the bigger picture. Having a compass that’s pointing you in the right direction will not only become more meaningful to you but will also become essential to your continued success in our very dynamic field. And at some point, having a compass that points to something more meaningful than “don’t suck today” will have real meaning to you.

Before we start on the personal mission statement, let’s review your personal success tetrahedron. The base of the tetrahedron is the mission (service), and the three sides are physical strength and nutrition, moral focus, and mental toughness and stability. We must find the balance among the three walls of the tetrahedron so we have the stability to achieve the mission. After all, you’ve got to ensure that you’re taking care of yourself before you can be expected to earn and uphold the public trust and to take care of those whom you are sworn to protect and serve.

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that you are a public servant who is held to a standard of public trust. That means that it’s not only your actions ON the job but also OFF the job that impact the public’s perception. While we’re focusing here primarily on your work life, the personal mission statement should certainly transcend into other parts of your personal life.

Key questions

As we think about personal mission statements, the KISS principle applies here too. It’s not about verbiage; it’s about being ready to fulfill the mission. Your personal mission statement is part of your life plan.

The first thing to understand as you begin your personal evaluation is that the personal mission statement is not set in stone. Your answers to the questions will likely evolve over the years until you achieve your greatest potential.

Now, start by answering these three questions to help develop your personal mission statement:

  1. Why do you want to do what you do – at work and in life? This is intended to be a positional question – a reflection on why you are striving for particular goals. Let’s say you’re taking the promotional test for lieutenant. The answer to “why” will most likely be different at the lieutenant stage of your career than it will be once you get to the chief’s ranks. It’s fair to ask yourself this question on a regular basis.
  2. What difference and/or affect will you make at your department? Are you swinging for the fences, trying to save the world, or do simply seek to improve the impression of leadership amongst the rank-in-file? Do you believe you can make that difference?
  3. What is your power? You could also ask yourself what you bring to the table. Maybe it’s a master’s degree, maybe it’s 20 years of intense experience/street smarts or national certifications/credentials, or you’re a legacy family member with a rich and storied family history within the organization. MAYBE you haven’t figured your power out yet – this exercise will help you drill down to identify it.

There are myriad options and programs out there to help you along this journey. Many of those options are fee-service or classroom opportunities that will help you work through the process. Some processes look at the questions slightly differently, and some ask totally different questions. I’ve found the above three questions a simple yet powerful tool for firefighters and chiefs alike to use as a starting point.

Maintaining your mission statement

Establishing your personal mission statement may be difficult at times; however, try to remember that it is just a statement. Only YOU can truly control the trajectory of your career; the personal mission statement is just designed to help direct your compass and keep you focused on the mission. With that in mind, here are some tips to stay on track:

  1. Practice what you preach in your statement and in your personal and professional actions.
  2. Evaluate every day and tomorrow: Like the OODA loop in operations, in your leadership, you need to constantly be observing, orienting, deciding and acting. Are you staying focused on getting to where your mission statement wants you to be? Will tomorrow’s environment still get you there? What do you need to adjust? Remember, it’s all about being ready.
  3. Recognize that none of us knows it all: This is meant to keep you humble and aware that we’re in this together. There are others out there to help you, and you may be the one being called on to help someone else through this process.

Some additional resources:

Finding meaning in what you do

“I had a life, I looked up one day and it was gone.” I heard this on a police drama, and the line struck me as a perfect way to emphasize the importance of building a personal mission statement. After all, none of us wants to wake up one day and realize that we didn’t make a positive impact, wishing we had floundered less and focused on our personal mission more.

My personal mission statement is emblazoned on the back of my personal challenge coin: “Inspire transformation to help others achieve their maximum potential.” And with more than 40 years of experience and serving in this role, I truly hope that I am helping others achieve their maximum potential.

So, what’s your personal mission statement?

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.