A few years ago I wrote an article titled, Observing FF Performance-Schmidt. I had observed firefighters for years, both in training and on the fire ground. Some performed significantly better than others, especially during unexpected, stressful situations. Why? My purpose for the article was to identify “what made one firefighter perform better than another?
In the article, I identified three critical factors that were attitudes and attributes that all firefighters with the right mindset shared: an intimate knowledge of and passion for the fire service; a professional attitude that includes understanding the dangers of the job, practicing situational awareness and being able to respond to stressful events; and accepting and following operational procedures.
After listening to The Right Mindset for Success on the HBR Ideacast, I was reminded of another critical factor that contributes to firefighter excellence. It revolves around their minds and how willing they are to grow them. The more-talented firefighters have a growth mindset. In other words, they are always learning. They believe that basic abilities are are developed over time and learned from experience. These firefighters are not just focused on the outcome, they know that the process is what makes the difference. They look for and like a challenge.
The less-talented firefighter, on the other hand, has a fixed mindset. They believe that their talents and abilities are fixed traits; they believe they already have what it takes (hard to believe, but some do think that). Many firefighters can fall into a fixed mindset because of their time on the job (years versus experience), success (they promote fast), or they may just be afraid of making mistakes or venturing out of their comfort zone (really? there are no “comfort zones” in firefighting!). The firefighter with the fixed mindset is more focused on outcome and how they look.
How can we encourage a growth mindset in others? Easy, just set the example. The message we send is really important, and should be practiced, not just said (Listen to what they say; Watch what they do). As leaders, we should send the following messages everyday:
- We value passion, dedication, growth and learning
- We don’t know it all and we don’t expect you to know it all, but we do expect all of us to be ready to learn
- We expect all of us to stretch beyond our comfort zone and take reasonable risks
- We value process here; we’re not just looking to check another box on a To Do list. We want to get things done right and in the right way.
I’ve had a Latin phrase on my email for years now that says it all for me, Ancora Imparo (I am still learning). Isn’t that really what’s needed for the right mindset?