On Motivation and Quality

When you see a speaker talking about motivation why do you get motivated? Well if they are any good its contagious and you are open to it. If you weren’t open to it you wouldn’t be hearing them, right? If the speaker wasn’t an example of motivation he or she would’t be seen by many people and not be very successful. It is of course a show and requires some buy in from the audience in order to be a success. Some speakers in the fire service have a good, contagious message and some, of course, are just trying to get paid. The difference is if they are living the message they are teaching. Do they live and work to their standards or is it a show for people outside their department.

With that in mind lets talk about motivation and mediocrity or standards if you will. I read through a discussion on this topic last night and some things became apparent. The first being the people involved all had different definitions of the words involved and the standards that go along with them. The second is some people live in a fantasy world of their own creation and want to spread it. Finally, people who sell motivation sell one spoonful of good information with 2 teaspoons of ego and three spoonfuls of marketing and their priorities follow in the same dosages. I’m not the most experienced guy but from what I have seen the people with the most narrow view of motivation and success also have the least experience with subjects. Instructors who are hated by their departments or not welcome in their own firehouses are not living to the standards they preach. You don’t have to be loved by all, but your message should ring true at home before you try to sell it to other firefighters.

This link provides a light look at the basis of some motivational speakers, HERE . I’ll paraphrase for you.
5. Deepak Chopra “The only difference between you and a tree is the informational and energy content of your respective bodies.” $75k per appearance
4. Esther and Jerry Hicks “the majority of people…are not accustomed to focusing on the vibrational world,” $275 Per person at the door
3. Jeff Davidson “Do one thing at a time to slow the world down. You can’t jump on your horse and ride in all directions.” $15k per appearance
2. Dan Millman “I learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything..” 20K per appearance
1. Tony Robbins “If you are running East looking for a sunset, you’ve got a problem.” 100k to start

The idea here is not to take anything from the professionals listed above. But if you actually look at what some people are selling you may realize you are wasting your money. Hey, I’d love to charge $100k to show up and throw some ladders and give you some motivation. Of course I we wouldn’t get many classes and the motivation would be the money. Also that price will be the focus of everyone in the class. I couldn’t do that. The examples above give almost the same presentation every time no matter the location or background of the audience. If your department is paying for outside instruction that class should be about what you can do with what you have and who you have. These speakers don’t care about who you are or your background and there are a lot of fire service instructors in the same boat. They try to sell you on the fantasy the have developed. The fantasy of all the work you could accomplish with an officer and 6 firefighters riding on a quint Tower. But in reality your department has 3 pumps that may qualify as antiques and not enough manpower to get them to an incident.

Trying to buy motivation from employees with money doesn’t work. As employees, once the initial boost of a pay raise wears off motivation goes back to where it started. Read into Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory for a little more information on that. When Herzberg’s theory is applied to firefighters it helps explain what many of us already know; As a firefighter I would rather work at a challenging station that has pride and gets recognized for it’s work as opposed to getting a pay raise that may come with a different assignment. That motivation is a bigger push than money can buy.

Don’t lie to yourself or anyone else about who you work with. Every department has the same guys no matter how big or small. Remember the quote “Same Clowns, Different Circus”. All departments have the same members. When you show up to teach a class or talk about what happens on your job we already know if you are stretching the truth or not. It’s easy to find out what your department thinks of you, a couple phone calls or Faceypage messages is all that stands in the way of insight. Make sure you ask more than one person when checking on a resume though.

Keep in mind some of the best instructors and best classes in our line of work can be seen giving away the information for free. Guys and crews that show you how to operate with who and what you have. Some companies let you come back for free after if you have taken the class before. Companies that hire local firefighters to help with the class to make sure the information works for your area.


Keep in mind the average firefighter is just that; average. I’ll take average any day. I also know that there are an equal number of members both above and below average. So when I hear someone trying to bring their company to an above average level you better stack the deck with hand picked staffing. I’m willing to bet only a few departments have that ability, so it’s not likely to happen. If you did who is going to be riding the other apparatus you are going to work a call with? Can you train a mediocre firefighter to get up to the average level? Maybe. But that’s when the motivation issue comes in. Can you motivate a firefighter to higher standards without alienating them and causing resentment? Yes, good luck. I have my standards and things I like to do. I transferred to the busiest truck company in my city and have not yet found a way to seamlessly do the drills I like to do every day. I’ll learn. But the habits and methods that worked in my last house don’t work here.

I have to change, I don’t expect the company to change. I also cannot hope to make improvements or changes until I understand how they operate already. As a leader or agent for change you have to know where you are starting and where you hope to end.

You also need to be honest with yourself on your goals, start realistic and basic if you are in over your head.

1 Comment

  • Jack Wilson says:

    I agree 100%, I believe the fantasy fire camps and rock stars of our service give a false sense of hope to those departments who don’t have the resources to evolve or the unmotivated types who are just there (?). I truly believe be good at being you… practice at being you… and you will provide the best service possible. Now with that being said… It took a long time for me to realize that , I was always in busiest company and with the best motivated people our city could find… There must good leadership and mentors to pass it on….

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