Mindsets and the Fire Service

Have you ever sat in a meeting, a classroom, or had a cup of coffee at the firehouse and listened to what people are saying - not what they are speaking - but what they are truly communicating? Verbal comments, nonverbal reactions, and even no response in these environments can reveal a lot about a person’s abilities, knowledge, and personal beliefs. That’s if you know what to look for. We deliver messages to others all the time whether we fully engage, toss out a quick comment, or remain quiet when given the opportunity to participate or be involved. When it comes to beliefs – or mindsets –, the ones we and others hold is the purpose of this article and what I’m hoping to explore with you.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D. a professor at Stanford and author of the book “mindset: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS”, conducted over twenty-years of research followed by ten-years of analysis with the assistance of Lisa Blackwell, Ph.D. a co-founder and VP of Design at Mindset Works, Inc. They discovered that individuals fall into two different categories as they learn or approach new challenges. Called mindsets, the “Fixed Mindset” and Growth Mindset” can show up in all of us, at any time, depending on the circumstances, the learning environment, or what’s at stake. The fixed mindset is a negative perspective and one that holds people back in a myriad of ways. The growth mindset is positive and relaxed and allows an individual to grow without stress or an internal “judge” sending self-defeating messages.

During my time in the training division, I often came face-to-face with the two mindsets. The Fixed Mindset, with its negative behaviors, interfered with opportunities to learn, sabotaging the learning environment and putting everyone’s learning opportunity at a disadvantage. As a training officer, I found myself struggling to help individuals who were clearly feeling “defensive”, and acting out in a manner that was not conducive to learning for them or others around them. There seemed to be two choices. Deal with it as best I could, possibly learning from how others “deal” with it. Or, I could ask the question, “What can I do to help these well-intended individuals deal with their stress so we can get down to learning?” Thinking on what I had already experienced, I went for the latter and sought knowledge, training, and mentorship outside of the fire service – notably, the education profession – for answers. What I found has become the foundational element of a new approach to leading – and mentorship.

The fixed mindset is built not on confidence in ones abilities but on esteem attributes. These are attributes that reflect on ego, identity and past negative experiences. The fixed mindset voice says “I can’t” or “If I try and fail, I will be judged”. It is this mindset, the fixed mindset, where an opportunity for great change exists. We need to endorse this change in ourselves and others. Through efficacy, persistence, and patience, it’s possible to transition an entire workforce to a healthier and more open-minded position where the growth mindset can start to develop and flourish.

The growth mindset understands that we are fallible and mistake-ridden, especially when we are learning new things or implementing change. The growth mindset understands that mistakes are part of the learning process and no matter the experience, background, or education, learning and changing requires an understanding that it takes effort, process, and time, before success or mastery can be achieved.

Through education and awareness of the fixed and growth mindset model, we can begin to become more aware of our own and others mindsets, allowing for the implementation of skills and strategies that can redirect ours and other’s fixed mindset towards a healthier state. The change begins in us, spreads to others and then beyond. Whether we are in meetings, training sessions, or other environments we need to remember that both types of mindsets will be present. Being on the lookout for the fixed mindset will help us begin to reinforce healthy individuals, quality learning opportunities, and genuinely healthy agency environments. The growth mindset is the perfect learning environment for today’s fire service.

Recent Stories
My Last Words on Training

Unreasonable Hospitality

Creating Successful Drills for on Duty Training