“I’ll think about it.”

If you are in a leadership position, this short sentence should be your default answer to just about any request or presented idea. This was the go-to response from France’s King Louis XIV who reigned for 72 years. “I’ll think about it” gives you room to do just that without leaving the other person feeling cast aside. Most decisions we make do not need to be made right now; this response allows you the space to perform the kind of slow thinking required to make good, balanced judgments.

It is too easy to be swayed by an individual during conversation. People can be charismatic, charming, and are inherently driven—at least to some degree—by personal interest. I’m sure we’ve all had moments of leaving a conversation swayed, nodding our heads in full agreement only to feel that certainty seep away a few minutes/hours/days later—that’s the power of the person. That is what you need to remove yourself from before making big decisions. Maybe they aren’t driven by self-serving motives, but we still need a little time and distance to see through the veil and better determine our stance on the topic. Maybe now you see there are selfish motives behind the original presentation, maybe what sounded wonderful at the moment now leaves you with a sense of foreboding and discomfort. So agree to nothing in the heat of the moment. Just tell them, “I’ll think about it.” No one wins, no one loses.

The key to this approach, though, is to actually think about whatever the pitch may have been. Take some time and really work over the idea presented. View it from multiple angles and with multiple variables. Do a little research on your own, form your thoughts and options. Discuss the idea with a couple of trusted peers to get different external angles. Then, most importantly, when you’ve made your decision, don’t waste any more time talking about it—act upon it. Let your actions communicate your decision. If someone has presented a new policy idea that you’ve decided would be beneficial, enact it. If someone wants to see a change in a procedure, change it. Don’t get caught up in further argument or continued conversations—these are simply forms of procrastination. You’ve put the thought into it, act on it. Actions speak much louder than words anyway. Give yourself room to think, decide, and act without hesitation.

 

Move with a purpose. A phrase we’ve all heard and most have uttered at least a few times throughout our careers. Moving with a purpose does not mean rush or hurry or try to accomplish something quickly. It means to accomplish your task with intention, to get from point A to B with a defined, driving purpose. It means don’t waste time, utilize it. Moving with a purpose doesn’t keep you from tripping along the way, but it does allow you to learn more from those stumbles.

We must keep this perennial phrase in mind as we emerge from a year of uncertainty, abnormality, and stagnation and move into 2021. Move with a purpose, with pride—pride in yourself, your job, your station, your department—and with passion. Let 2021 be the year we stop complaining about things outside our spheres and start making the biggest positive impact we can, when we can and where we can. Let this be a year of progression and action. Aim to be proactive, no reactive. Leave everything better than you found it. Seek to bring together, not tear apart. Take responsibility, embrace accountability and urge others to do the same. Don’t worry if you stumble along the way, we all do. What matters isn’t the stumble, it’s the purpose driving the motion.

”Follow the energy. Work as hard as you can, with all the quality you can manage. Make an impact. Just don’t take things so seriously. Be free to make a few mistakes. Embrace the errors and take pride to admit when you’re wrong.” —Chris Moore

 

The value of reading cannot be overstated, especially for those in leadership positions. In a world engineered by 30-second news clips, Instagram stories, and 280-character assaults, reading is the perfect escape. While books are not a perfect teaching vehicle in and of themselves, they are penny-for-penny one of the best investments one can make towards their accrual of knowledge and wisdom. But, this wisdom is not gained through history books or management books alone.

Reading fiction is more than just escaping into an alternate reality, getting lost in the lives and adventures of others, or a method for calming the mind before going to sleep. Reading fiction is an excellent means for gaining one of the key traits of good leaders: empathy. Being able to put yourself in others’ positions, to feel what they’re feeling, think what they’re thinking—what author Robert Greene refers to as thinking inside others—is paramount to being an effective leader. Reading books like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest will help someone understand addiction and mental illness better than any textbook or psychology class could ever come close to. Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano give you deep insight to what someone can feel when they lose the feeling of value in their life and work.

Cultivating an intuitive understanding of lives other than your own can only help in making you a more effective leader. A leader who is not only obeyed but is respected and appreciated. Get outside yourself, get outside the popular management and pop-psychology books and dig into some fiction. Expand your world and become better at thinking inside.

Note: this article was originally posted in 2018. Due to issues with my old site, I’m reposting it here. Enjoy.

Post Traumatic Growth

At 2018’s FDIC conference I had the opportunity to sit in on Dr. David Griffin’s lecture on Post Traumatic Growth, or PTG. I’m embarrassed to say that I had no idea who Dr. Griffin was before walking into the room that Wednesday morning. When he began telling the story of the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire on June 18, 20071, in which nine firefighters lost their lives, and his role as a pump operator on that fire, I was immediately enthralled and humbled. Dr. Griffin spoke at length about what he went through after the fire, his battles with PTSD, and how he eventually turned that trauma into PTG, starting his Mission.

On September 1, James Geering released his Behind the Shield podcast with Dr. Griffin (which I highly recommend) and after listening to this episode I bought Dr. Griffin’s book, From PTSD to PTG: A Firefighter’s (My) Journey After a Multiple LODD Incident and read it in a day. Granted, it’s a short read coming in around 120 pages in print format, but it’s also a very gripping read.

In the book, Dr. Griffin gives takes the reader on a journey through his trauma, the symptoms of his PTSD, and his eventual realization of and dealing with the problems it was causing him. Dr. Griffin is extremely candid and humble throughout the book; taking full responsibility for his actions and doling out credit to his wife, family, and the professionals that helped him through this dark time.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

”[If] we utilize our proactive steps of education, mental health programming, continual monitoring, and education on the concept of PTG, we can assist our co-workers in combatting the effects of PTSD.”

Dr. Griffin discusses the importance of changing the fire service culture from one of a BS machismo, “shrug it off,” mentality into a culture that embraces and encourages open communication and support. There must be education from the recruit level all the way to the top and the infrastructure in place to allow people to recognize when they’re having issues and to help them deal with it in a productive, healing way.

“one major incident doesn’t necessarily cause PTSD. It’s often related to a career full of traumatizing emergency responses.”

He writes, “Dr. Tull indicates anywhere between 7% and 37% of firefighters ‘meet criteria for a current diagnosis of PTSD.’ That’s alarming.” Alarming is putting it mildly. The modern realization that PTSD isn’t only caused by a singular traumatic event such as the Sofa Super Store LODD event, but can be brought on by the cumulative effect of years on the job, is a huge advancement in caring for ourselves and our peers. Dr. Griffin points out that any call that bothers you, any arrest, fire fatality, etc. can add to that cumulative trauma, essentially filling a bucket. That bucket will fill over time and you’ll have to find some way to deal with it before the overflow negatively effects you and those around you.

Find Your Mission

The best way to deal with your trauma, according to the author, is through identifying “the responses that give you the most mental anguish and then be willing to share what you’ve learned.” The act of not only dealing with your trauma (through professional help, family support, etc.), but sharing what you’ve learned with others, resonated with me. I noted in the book as I read, *“is this part of my drive to write?”* Maybe I’m personally dealing with the cumulative effects my years on the job without fully realizing it. Either way, I agree that it is important to share what you learn so that others, too, may grow and get better. Channel the pain and anger you may feel, let it fuel something positive. Define your purpose, find your Mission.

You Gotta Know That You Don’t Know

”You don’t want to find out you don’t have sufficient knowledge or experience on an emergency scene. That should be done in training.”

What stuck with me the most from the FDIC lecture and the book was Dr. Griffin’s description of standing at that pump panel and not knowing what to do, not *really knowing* his job. He realized he had been in the fire service for a little over two years and had done little to educate himself on his profession and his duties, and on that night, and for years after, he felt the impact of that ignorance.

Dr. Griffin writes throughout the book about his lack of proper training and education in the fire service at the time of the LODD event, pointing out what I feel is one of the major issues afflicting the fire service currently. It’s too easy for guys to take the attitude of, “this is how we’ve always done it,” or, “yeah, I did that once at drill, I’m good.” We must realize it is up to us, as individuals, to take it upon ourselves to take charge of our own education and training and not just lean on what our departments provide. It is not enough to know how, we must know why; there must be a solid mix of technical skills, book smarts, and experience. *(Dr. Griffin discusses this point on the Behind the Shield podcast.)*

In the book, Dr. Griffin touches on the four levels of mastery from Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman’s book, On Combat, of which, the first level, unconscious incompetence,d scares the hell out of me. These are the guys that don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t take the time to research, read, train, take classes, etc. They take every shift, every call for granted. We have to encourage our peers to get out of this stage (or better yet, avoid it all together). Dr. Griffin admits to being in this stage at the time of the Sofa Super Store fire, and thanks to his book, I can imagine exactly how felt that night and I don’t want that for myself or anyone else.

”We must train to the fourth level of mastery; unconscious competence. This indicates you’ve practiced a skill so much, you can perform at a high level in a stressful environment. We must all strive to attain this. We must also remember when we reach the level of unconscious competence, continual learning is necessary.”

A Cultural Problem with a Cultural Solution

Suicide rates are on the rise across the population as a whole. In 2015, a staggering 46.8% of firefighters reported having suicidal thoughts with 15.5% admitting to attempting suicide at least once during their career2. It is encouraging that through people like Dr. Griffin and Dan DeGryse and others that this epidemic is coming more into the mainstream of the fire service, but we must not brush it off as a fad, we must embrace the rising tide and change the culture.

From PTSD to PTGshould be mandatory reading for new and experienced firefighters, officers, and chiefs alike. The information contained in this book and the experience of the man that wrote it is priceless and could very realistically save lives. Just as important as the information contained in the book itself is the self-reflection and conversations the book *should* lead to.

Dr. Griffin’s knowledge and passion are palpable and his ability to get a point across succinctly is on point. You cannot afford not to spend the $10 (kindle) or $20 (print) on this book and the hour or two it takes to read it.

  1. Check out the NIOSH Report and The Routley Report on the Sofa Super Store LODD event for further reading.
  2. Firefighter Behavioral Health and Suicide: A Rising Tide by Todd J. LeDuc

 

Failure. Defined by Merriam-Webster as: “lack of success,” and “falling short.” Most people fear failure. In fact, many fear failure so much they never even try. But this is misplaced fear. If you’re going to be successful at something—anything—you have to try. And to try generally means to fail at least once or twice before you get it right, before you succeed.

The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear [of failure]; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior… — Steven Pressfield

Rather than fear failure, we must embrace it. Fear of failure shouldn’t stop you, it should motivate you. We must commit to experiencing failure on our terms: on the training ground instead of on a scene or in a classroom versus on an EMS call.

What we should fear, however, what should keep us up at night, is not failing but being stagnant—failing to progress. I’m not referring to progressing through ranks, but rather the idea of progressing as an individual. Failing to learn, to grow, to get better, to become more well-rounded.

“That is the horror. That is the nightmare. That is what you really need to be afraid of: Being stagnant.” — Jocko Willink

Call it what you will: complacency, comfort, contenment. It’s all the same thing: stagnation. We get to a point where we stop developing. We stop pushing ourselves, stop challenging our ideas and our limits. We think we know enough, we think we’ve done enough. We’re good, right here. This is comfortable. At its worst, this mindest could get someone killed. On a less dramatic level, it could lead to waking up one day and realizng you’ve wasted your life, that you’ve sold yourself short.

Embracing failure keeps you motivated to succeed. But a deep-seeded, gut-level aversion to stagnation will drive you to success beyond what you think is possible. If you’re going to be afraid of anything, be afraid of becoming complacent or too comfortable. Be afraid of being in a position where you realize you don’t know your job as well as you should. Let this fear motivate you to be better, to learn more, to train harder, and refine your knowledge as you prepare yourself and those around you to succeed. Push yourself, push your crews. Fight stagnation. This is how we get better, this is how we become more effective.

 

Note: This Post originally appeared on my other site (brandonsdouglas.com) which is currently out of service due to a poor decision in web hosting. As such, the links in the text to previous posts may not work.

I have been a creator in one form or another throughout my life, mostly in drawing and painting. About 10 years ago, I got serious with my artistic pursuits and even experienced some modest success in that realm. These pursuits culminated in 2016 with a gallery show with my friends and mentor Seth Haverkamp and Kat Haverkamp. While creating my paintings for the show, I realized I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. I had gone from a place of wanting to share my work to creating work to share. This is where a creative pursuit becomes a side hustle; the perceived value of the goals begins to outweigh the value of the process itself. Some people can do this successfully, I could not. I all but quit painting after that show was over. I was unable to just enjoy the process. Since then, I’ve only completed a handful of pieces. The same thing happened with this blog.

Exactly two years ago I uploaded my first post on this blog. A few months later, I posted my last. I started with intentions of sharing what I was learning but I quickly lost sight of those intrinsic reasons and focused on page counts and clicks. I started trying to turn out posts as quickly as I could to keep people interested and coming back. I wanted my work to get shared, I wanted to be known. I was writing for extrinsic rewards, not personal progress. I was writing to share, not sharing what I wrote. So I stopped.

Over the past eighteen months, I have gone through a lot of changes. Not the least of which was being promoted to battalion chief. That promotion initiated a big shift in how I think and that about which I think. I’ve become less focused on fire service-specific endeavors and have instead focused on pushing myself to grow as a person, knowing that becoming a better person overall will make me better not only in my role as a leader but as a father and a husband as well. During this season of change, I’ve all but disappeared from social media and haven’t shared much of anything. This is partially due to not fully trusting myself to do so; I’m afraid of getting into the same old bad habit loop. But then I read Show Your Work by Austin Kleon which pushes the value in sharing what you create but coming at it from a deeply personal place. He urges the reader to share as a means of holding yourself accountable, refining your knowledge, and contributing to your community. This is the idea of learning in public. If I’m going to post something on here, I better know about what I’m writing about.

Soon after that book, I stumbled upon Derek Sivers and his idea that you should try to “get famous” not as a means of personal gain but to be useful to others. He points out the opposite of sharing is hiding, “which is of no use to anyone.” Like most people, I want to be useful. Therefore, I should share what I’m learning and what I’m thinking, even if it seems obvious and ordinary.

So that’s the goal this time around: use this as means of sharing what I’m learning in hopes that I’ll learn and grow more while being of more use to others. I’m not here to make money or gain a following. I’m here for myself. If you enjoy it and get something from it, that’s simply a bonus. While my career in the fire service will certainly color that which I learn and write about, this will not just be about being a fire officer as that is but one facet of my life. Instead, I aim to document how everything in life feeds everything else; how seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts come together to stimulate growth and improvement. Hopefully, it’ll be of some use.