Navigating Successful Change
A week or so ago I posted this picture and I had so much that I wanted to say about it that it wouldn’t have been feasible to do so in a single post. I haven’t written a blog post in a while so I figured this would be a great opportunity to do so. My motivation for this picture was the increase in messages I have been receiving through the page. Interacting with the followers of the page is my favorite part of doing this, so please keep the messages coming! I have been getting a few messages here and there where people tell me what the page has done for their passion, how frustrated they are with what goes on in their own department, or that the page has been able to put many of their feelings into words. These interactions started making my brain spin about what I write on the page versus what I am able to accomplish in my own department.
First and foremost I think we all need to understand that EVERY fire department in America is the same in different ways. We all have motivated people, unmotivated people, good rules, bad rules, guys who are great at the job, guys who aren’t so great at the job, problems, solutions, and every gray area in between. What makes us different is the way each of those components influence and create the culture within our firehouses. It is very easy to look at someone else’s situation or operation and draw conclusions about your own. It is also very easy to become discouraged when what they are doing doesn’t necessarily work in your agency.
It is much easier to tell others what needs to be done than make it happen yourself. Telling someone to stop accepting the bullshit or implement a huge change may be the right advice, but can be extremely difficult to accomplish depending on the environment that individual is working in. “The road to success is easier to navigate when plotted on another man’s map” is something I came up with when thinking about all the advice that is out there. Simply put, it is easier to fix someone else’s problems than your own. Sure it is easy to get on social media or correspond with a colleague in another agency and solve the problems of other departments, but how does it translate to your department? One of the most difficult parts of affecting change is trying to figure out how to manipulate the advice, passion, and ideas you receive from others into a product that will work in your own organization. I frequently feel like a hypocrite when I write things on the page that I am unable to change in my own department. However, there is a massive difference between saying and not doing versus trying and not succeeding. Every tour I strive to make some sort of positive change whether it is in my department, on my shift, within my crew, or in the community.
When our craft becomes how you make a living, there are certainly limitations on how hard you can fight depending on your rank and influence. We must test the waters and push the limits while ensuring we do so with enough respect and mindfulness to prevent us from being terminated for our efforts. Pushing for improvement in a manner which costs you your career does not solve any problems but rather creates much larger ones! There is no road map or fastest route to making change in your organization. The most influential people of a field are called pioneers for a reason; they forged their own paths. The best course of action is to find acceptable ways to make an impact and exploit them until you wear the opposition down.
One of the most exhausting parts of trying to change things is preaching to the choir. The majority of us have a somewhat limited sphere of influence. You will likely spend most of your time sharing ideas with people who have a similar outlook. This is because those who oppose you don’t want to hear it. However, just like a real choir, the more you preach the more people will join your cause. Influence as many people as possible and watch the culture of passion spread. Just be sure you are realistic about the time it may take to see results. Not every change has to be a huge one. Sometimes many small changes end up creating a larger change in the end. While it is true that change can start at the bottom, it certainly gains much more traction when it is started and supported on the top. The power associated with our top ranks generally aids in the successful implementation of cultural changes in many cases. Regardless of the larger impact, the most important thing is changing what you can and influencing others to change the things you can’t whenever you are given the opportunity.
It is extremely discouraging to dedicate yourself to making your organization better only to have those efforts rejected by the other members. When you are passionate and outspoken, you can unfortunately end up with a target on your back. People will pounce on every opportunity to mock, correct, or punish you because what you believe makes them uncomfortable. You have to be prepared for the resentment and abuse pushing for change can bring. This normally has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Most people do not like change and those who are insecure about themselves like it even less. Usually, they have learned to hide behind the status quo and are scared their flaws will be exposed if change is implemented. Sometimes you will have to burn bridges, but we often build better ones in their place!
Being passionate can be a lonely place depending on the people you are surrounded by. This doesn’t mean you have to give up it simply means you have to pick your battles. While making friends is not a primary mission of our profession, we still have to be able to work with each other and sometimes that means you must get creative with how you apply your passion to our craft. Brush off what you can and enlist the help and support of like-minded people for the things you cannot. While I think it is complete bullshit we sometimes have to dumb down our passion, it is an unfortunate reality of the current state of the fire service. Remember, if you push so hard they shut down you will never be successful at changing things for the better. We all wish we could take the highway but the road of the passionate is usually the scenic route.
I think the most impactful thing I have learned since taking on this endeavor is that there are fellow firefighters all over the place that are simply refreshed to hear someone tell them it is okay to love the job. There is such a lack of passion and commitment across the board that many of our brothers and sisters are simply relieved to read and hear that there are those of us out there who agree with them. They are empowered to continue fighting knowing that they are not alone. In many ways they rely on posts, books, and speakers to reinforce their passion and beliefs as a way to stay motivated. This is why it is imperative we continue to communicate, influence, and support each other!
While it may be easier for someone to offer ways to fix the problems of departments other than their own, don’t take the advice in vain. It will always be easier to interject your opinion on matters which do not directly affect you. This does not make their advice or beliefs any less valuable, it simply means that the perspective and environment will greatly influence how those ideas are or are not implemented in your own agency. The goal should always be to implement as many positive changes as possible in your department. However, don’t be discouraged if it is not as simple as a post or class may make it seem! The reality of the situation, which I have learned from interacting with followers of the page, is that regardless of what you can do in your own department, your advice can and will help others.