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Positive mindset or negative attitude: It’s your choice – and the example you set

If you seem to thrive in a negative environment, it might be time to reconsider your purpose in the fire service

Choosing a Positive mindset, Sadness turns into a smile, Concept, Yellow brick with painted human emotions, pastel blue background, Changing bad attitudes into good

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As I continue to recover from a recent health challenge, I am heartened by the many people who reached out to offer prayers and words of encouragement moving forward. Those connections have led to other connections who provided their own stories and encouragement.

I assure you that it is not lost on me that many of those who have offered their encouragement have experienced their own tragedies, some dissimilar and some far worse than my own. But what I have found similar about the experiences is the level of positivity expressed, even amid battles against serious ailments – brain cancer, Alzheimer’s, child cancer, depression and any number of other personal challenges.

Your choice

While positivity is a choice, unchecked negativity can be its own disease, not only within individuals but also within your organization. Negativity is often the easy route – one that is pervasive in many business circles. The fire service is no different. Not surprisingly, many organizations that fail point to complacency, or a lack of intentionality, as primary reasons for their failure.

Some of you might be thinking that you’re just not used to being “Suzie-sunshine” – that’s OK. But I do have a challenge for you: Work to pull yourself out of that rut. Why? Your attitude matters to the people around you.

If you seem to thrive in a negative environment, it’s time to reconsider your purpose in the fire service. Our communities and our crewmembers all depend on us to be at the top of our game and ready to do what needs to be done at any time. The goodwill we have built has certainly NOT been built on a bed of negativity. Our foundations should support a culture of positivity. Our leadership MUST mold and model the traits and values necessary to support positive progress and positive relationships both inside and outside our firehouses. The public trusts that this is who we will be.

The Washington Post Test

As you consider the opportunities to be positive (or negative), remember The Washington Post Test. The “test” asks you to consider whether your grandmother or significant other would approve of what you’re doing/saying if they read about it online or on the front page of the paper. If they would approve, move forward. If they would not approve, rethink and reapproach.

Now, while I understand some behavior might not seem noteworthy to you, I can assure you that there are microphones and cameras everywhere. That’s the simple truth, and we see the results daily. Would you want your words printed above the fold or splashed across a banner headline online? In my classes, I refer to this self-consideration as a “wall judge.”

Here’s another way to think about the test. Imagine you’re giving a presentation at a conference. You’ve reached the Q&A portion, and an individual in the audience asks a pointed or controversial question. In this moment, pick an item to stare at for at least three seconds (a clock on the wall, a fan, a particular picture, etc.). Quickly think about the answer you’re getting ready to give, remembering that your response will likely be deemed either positive or negative. If your wall judge gives pause, even looks at you like you’re a nut, well, that’s a good sign you should listen to your gut and reconsider your response. If a negative response is warranted, your challenge is to deliver that message in the most appropriate way possible. Anything less will likely be lost on those members who are clamoring for something – anything – positive.

Key questions

Focusing on intentional positivity takes work. It is often much easier to sit back and pick things apart than it is to be a model of positivity for your organization. Having a solid personal mission statement that identifies your purpose helps in the effort to have a positive mindset.

As you consider your purpose and your levels of intentionality, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you participate in physical training with your recruits and on your own?
  • Are you communicating effectively with your members, both up and down the line?
  • Do you routinely visit your members at the station or on the scene?
  • Is personal and personnel safety front and center in everything you do?
  • Are you out in the community, taking any opportunity to engage with your residents and businesses?
  • Are you having those difficult conversations about personnel, discipline, DEI and labor/volunteer/management relationships?
  • Are you attending conferences and encouraging your staff to attend them as well?
  • Do you engage professionally with your elected officials?
  • Are you coaching, mentoring and developing your members, including your potential future replacements?

Make your choice

Remember, negativity breeds negativity, and positivity breeds positivity. If you are constantly demeaning your members and reinforcing how bad everything is, I assure you that your team will eventually model that behavior, and I guarantee that will come back to bite you.

It’s your choice to be positive or negative. Choose intentional positivity!

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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.