During their lunch break, two construction workers are sitting on a steel beam many stories above the city streets. The first worker opens his metal lunch box and merrily starts to devour his meal. The second worker opens his lunch box and immediately complains, “Oh man, not bologna again! Every day it’s the same old thing.” The first worker says, “Why don’t you just ask your wife to make you something different every once in a while?” The second worker replies, “My wife doesn’t make my lunches—I do.”
The point: We make (or bring) our own “bologna” into our lives. In other words, we decide how to perceive and react to the world around us. Our perceptions and reactions—or our behaviors—direct our daily lives.
Values & Attitude
Much of our behavior is based on our core values and attitudes, which are instilled in us by the time we reach the age of 10 or 11, and generally don’t change much after that. But that’s not to say they’re set in stone. Over time, and in the quest for self-improvement, we may adjust our values when we find a defect or inaccuracy in what we’ve been taught.
Part of what helps people change their values is their attitude toward them. Our attitude can change minute by minute, day by day or hour by hour. Those changes are based on many variables, such as anxiety, stress, fatigue, weather, time, etc. Example: One of your core values is enjoying the game of baseball. So let’s say that today, the Yankees and the Red Sox are in the World Series. One team must win and one team must lose. What is your attitude toward this game? You may be rooting for one particular team, so if they lose, your attitude may be greatly affected. But you may also think, who cares who wins? It’s only a game! In short, your attitude will dictate how you react.
Some people’s reactions are extreme, but you can adjust or modify your behavior if you choose to. For example, if your favorite team loses the World Series, rather than having a bad attitude about it and letting it affect you negatively, you could tell yourself that the game is just that—a game—and it really doesn’t affect your everyday life.
As a company officer, you are constantly in the middle, regardless of your rank. Sergeants (yes, some departments do have them) and lieutenants are the link between firefighters and their captain. Captains, on the other hand, are the buffer between the lieutenants (and/or sergeants) and the chiefs or headquarters.
As a result, the captain has the distinct pleasure of managing all the stuff that rolls both up- and downhill (i.e., orders, policies and report requests from above and inquiries, needs or requests for assistance from those below). They also serve as the buffer between what the upper echelon wants and what the field members actually do. But if they work together—meaning the captain (with input from the lieutenants) organizes the company and sets the tone—these officers, with their varying degrees of responsibility, can adapt to the pressures that come from the top down or the bottom up simply by knowing their place and how to handle it.
Just like it does in your personal life, your perception of the world around you, together with your core values and attitude, will shape your behavior at work. So if you’re having a bad day at work, your values and attitude will dictate your response, but they can also help you get through the day.
Let’s say a directive comes down from the proverbial “ivory tower.” The captain’s job is to disseminate the new rule to the lieutenants, who must then attempt to “sell” the idea to the firefighters on the back step—but what if the captain doesn’t buy into the new rule or procedure? This situation creates a conflict, which can create stress; however, the officer’s perception of the new rule or procedure and their attitude toward it can help rectify the situation. The captain has to “toe the department line,” but if they can also look at the new rule in a different way and adjust their attitude toward it, they may be able to make the new rule more palatable for the lieutenants. The lieutenants, in turn, may then be able to do the same thing when disseminating the rule to the line firefighters. The lesson: How we perceive things and react to them can greatly affect other people. So if the officer chooses to adjust their attitude, it could have a positive effect on the entire department.
For example: A new tool assignment comes down for ladder company firefighters in fireproof, multi-story buildings. This new assignment changes the way the job has been performed for many, many years. The firefighters don’t see the value in the new procedure, and the officers find it hard to disagree. However, if they examined the history of which tool (the old one versus the new one) has the best chance of being used and which will have a greater impact on firefighter safety, the attitude toward the new tool would probably change. Unfortunately, this educational component doesn’t come with the issuance of the new tool. So it will probably be the officers’ job to dig up this information and deliver it to the firefighters.
Ultimately, the officers’ behavior toward the new tool (either positive or negative) will impact the perception of the firefighters.
A Final Thought
The job of a company officer isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes patience and a lot of deep breaths. But remember: You alone choose how you perceive and react to the world around you, and if you’re a company officer, your attitude can have far-reaching effects within your department. Simply put, attitude recognition and behavior modification may be all it takes to keep an issue from becoming the same old bologna sandwich.