I Have the Right to Change My Mind: Don't I?

Dr. Harry Carter discusses why firefighters and fire officers can re-evaluate their decisions based on what they are presented with.


How many times have you found yourself in a situation where the facts tell you that something you have decided to do is wrong? You used the proper decision-making skills, you gathered the necessary facts, and did what you were taught to do. And, despite all of the time and effort were expended...


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Let me assure you that it is my desire to have you understand that when I say scrutiny, I want you to equate the concept of scrutiny to abuse. People will be tough on you. They will bust your chops and work to make you feel like an outcast. I have been there and done that. My experience tells me to urge you to stand your ground. Be firm. If you can agree with the boss, please do so; but not just to hear the sound of your voice.

I am saying that you can be a force for change in your department. I have said that it is all right for anyone to change their mind. What we have not said to you yet is that you can really only control one mind: yours! But what you can be is a force for change.

One of the best ways to teach is by example. If you can demonstrate that it is appropriate to occasionally change your mind, it can set the tone for change in your immediate work area. The higher the rank of the individual changing their mind, the larger will be the work area that is impacted by that change.

A word of caution is appropriate at this point. Do not change your mind too often. This is called vacillation, and is a very poor thing to do. However, there will be times when you will have to stand your ground in the fact of non-factual opposition. People will assail you with the dreaded words which fall into two general categories:

  1. We've never done it that way!
  2. We've always done it that way!

These words will have to roll off of you like water off of a duck's back. If I had stopped the first time I heard those words, there is a good chance that I might not have ever progressed to the position in life which I now hold.

Let me close with a restatement of thesis. It is OK to change your mind, provided that the facts indicate that a change is in order. Do not change your mind just to curry favor or to gain selfish personal advantage. Do not vacillate. Many are the times that I have been beaten about the head, shoulders, and body, but I am still here to tell you to carry on the battle. There is one really important point to remember: The opposition may be able to kill you, but they can't eat you, because that is not the act of a civilized foe.

You must open your mind to the world around you. I say that so that you will become better attuned to when and where changes will be necessary. Show your department how to change. Provide the guidance and live the behaviors you want to see in the future. It won't be easy, but then again, many of the best things in life are never easy.

  • See Harry Live! Lt. Dr. Harry Carter, will be presenting "The Leadership/Followership Equation: The Key to Fire Department Success" at Firehouse Expo, July 19 - 23, in Baltimore.

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his "A View From my Front Porch" blog. He recently several texts, including Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at drharrycarter@optonline.net.