After years of study and interviewing hundreds of great firefighters, leaders and thought leaders in the fire service, here are the top eight characteristics of the best of the world's bravest.
1. They expect success
Great firefighters and leaders have set an expectation for themselves to be the best they can be and to not leave anything in the tank. They have a personal standard that they will not compromise.
At times they get frustrated with the system or organizational flaws, but they continually meet and exceed the expectations they set for themselves.
They have a can-do attitude with a relentless work ethic. For them, it's not about if they will accomplish a goal, but when they will accomplish it.
2. They have a clear plan
Have you ever been driving down the road and — bam — a bird dropped it's business on your windshield? We'll that is not how becoming a great firefighter works.
It will not randomly hit you and you won't just walk into the firehouse one day and be great.
Great firefighters have a plan. They outline what they need to know, what classes and certifications they need to obtain, what skills they need to master. Then, they continue to stay sharp on those skills and work on their plan.
This plan takes them step-by-step toward being a great and respected firefighter.
3. They work hard
The fire service is a "doing" business. When someone calls 911, they are not looking for advice or an opinion. They are looking for someone to show up now and solve their problem.
Great firefighters work hard to perform at their best both mentally and physically. It takes hard work to stay mentally sharp and physically strong.
Great firefighters invest long hours training their minds and their bodies and practicing the skills that go into being a great firefighter.
4. They are teachable and a life-long students
One of the most common traits of great firefighters is their humility. The student is never greater than the teacher.
Therefore, for fire service leaders to move up the ranks and still be willing to learn from others, especially those below their paygrade, demonstrates their true humility.
This is what got them to the top and one of the main reasons it keeps them there.
When we stop being willing to learn and start thinking that we know it all, complacency sets in and we eventually get destroyed. Therefore, great firefighters stay humble and continue to be students of great firefighting throughout their careers.
5. They exercise self-control, persistence and delayed gratification
Find the most direct route to your goal, but don't fall for the short-cut trap; there are none. Great firefighters know that it takes discipline and time to maximize their potential. Exercising self-control, persistence and delaying gratification are cornerstones to building an enriching career.
A lack of self-control will cause firefighter burnout. This is not the same burnout we get from being overworked on our shifts.
Those who lack persistence and have false expectations on when they should be rewarded become frustrated and bitter. This can lead firefighters to quit trying to improve themselves.
An insatiable ego is linked to low self-esteem, selfishness and an inability to delay gratification. Do you know any firefighters who have an insatiable ego or who are bitter or burned out? Unfortunately, they are not hard to find.
Great firefighters have learned and exercise self-control to avoid burnout. They exercise persistence through the season they are in to meet and exceed the challenge and not fall into a false sense of expectation. They delay gratification knowing that it will come — it's not a matter of if, but when.
6. They are accountable
It's easy to point a finger and blame others or objects like an alarm clock when it doesn't work. But that's not going to make you or your team better.
You can play the victim role, but that is crippling because you give away your power. We always have a choice.
Great firefighters always take 100 percent accountability 100 percent of the time because that is where the power is. It is where you find the power to improve and the power to adapt and overcome.
If my alarm clock doesn't go off and I'm late, it's my fault. I am responsible for my actions, not the alarm clock. I should have two alarms clocks, maybe three.
Always be prepared with a back up plan. We have pre-incident plans in the fire service for all types of scenarios. Great firefighters have plans and back-up plans for all kinds of scenarios that they are responsible for to make sure they get the job done.
7. They surround themselves with great firefighters
Show me the five people you surround yourself with and I can tell you what your future holds. Humans are tremendously influenced by peer pressure.
This peer pressure can work for us and against us. It is usually talked about in a negative way like during our high school years. But, it works both ways. You become like those you spend the most time with.
Great firefighters know this and use it to their advantage. They surround themselves with other great firefighters and leaders to use positive peer pressure to their advantage. This is how they stay consistent and motivated in the pursuit of excellence.
8. They appreciate the past and the present
What we appreciate appreciates. In other words, what we focus on and invest our time and energy in becomes more valuable to us.
Firefighters have so much to appreciate about those who have come before them. They blazed the trail and helped raise the quality of the fire service.
We get to stand on the shoulders of those great firefighters and leaders. Yet we also must plan for the future challenges so that those who come after us can stand on our shoulders and continue this proud and selfless tradition.
Join in making the fire service better by reminding yourself of the characteristics that you have and incorporating the ones you need to. It starts with you and me.
Let's be the change we want to see in the fire service. Let's be the example of how to be a great firefighter and leader.