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

How many times have you faced a situation where the facts told you that something you had decided to do was wrong? You used the proper decision-making skills, you gathered the necessary facts, and you made the decision in the proper way; the way you had been taught to make decisions. Yet, in spite of all of that, the problem you attacked did not respond to your approach. In such as case, you would revisit the decision-making process and find another alternative.

Now let's suppose that you are suddenly faced with a challenge to one of your core operational values - something that you were taught way back when. The facts indicate that your old way of doing things, your old way of thinking was now wrong or obsolete. Think about it. There really is nothing worse than facts. I have seen some really neat witch hunts ruined by the application of facts to a situation. However, the facts show that that your old way of thinking must change, and horror of horrors, the change will have an impact upon your entire department. How will you begin to make the change?

You must come to a simple, but profound realization. It is OK to change your mind. Many are the people who have found in wars to protect and defend our right to make up our minds as we see fit. When we want to, we can change our minds. The only real constraint on this decision is that our actions cannot hurt other people. Here is where a problem often pops up.

There are many people who see changing their minds as a sign of weakness. This thought probably dates back to the old west, or some such similar past time. Think back to the concept of the rugged individual who was viewed as the resolute, strong, and silent type. Was John Wayne ever made to change his mind or look weak? Perhaps there were instances of this type, but we are hard put to remember any. This is truly one of those areas where a paradigm shift is in order.

When John F. Kennedy said during his inaugural speech that, "…let the word go forth …that the torch has been passed," he was referring to the change in leadership from those born during the 19th Century to those who were born in the 20th Century. He was asking people to shift their paradigm from the 19th to the 20th Century view of leadership. In my case here, I am asking you to change your view of changing your mind. This is something which I have been working on for many years now.

In some areas, I am flowing nicely with the many changes which are occurring in my beloved fire service. While I am not an EMT, I am well aware of the fact that EMS belongs in the fire service. I have worked to grease the skids for this in a number of venues. My role in this involves writing, speaking, and working to convince people of the rightness of this approach to service delivery.

A number of areas also have need of a modern agenda which includes public education, specialized rescue services, hazardous materials response capabilities, customer service issues, and homeland security issues. Each department should allow a service delivery program to evolve which serves their community in an effective, cost-efficient manner. Unfortunately, the focus in far too many areas is purely reactive in nature. Personnel arrive at work and begin reacting to the problems de jour. For many among us, the cure for the standard reactive-response syndrome is a tough dose of medicine to take. Here is where I am heading when I suggest that the need to conduct mind-changing on an adaptive basis is so critical.

The mind set of your leadership may have to change. I am suggesting that people begin to pursue a proactive operational agenda. Let me suggest that you will need to perform an important function which will require a certain amount of courage on your part. To help your department begin the process of changing, you will need to begin standing up to your boss. I am not suggesting that you be nasty or abusive, for the penalties will not be worth the effort. 

What I am suggesting is that your fire department will not be well-served by you being a "Yes Man" (or woman). It is critical for you to put forward the most up-to-date views of how to deliver the services provided by your department. You must do this in a positive and supportive manner. Trust me when I say that I will never approve abuse, insubordination, or insolence. Your approach must be conducted within the rules and regulations of your department, not to mention the normal bounds of propriety, politeness, and good manners. 

However, let me warn you that by stepping forward to promote change that you will be subjecting yourself to the scrutiny of your bosses. Be firm and stand your ground. If you can, begin with an area of agreement and then move in the new direction you are pursuing. It is my suggestion that you can become a force for good in your department by becoming a proactive person. Work to introduce new ideas and get out ahead of the curve. This is becoming more critical as new ways to do our work are beginning to emerge from some critical new research studies. 

Let me suggest that in becoming proactive that you will need to anticipate what is happening in the world around you. You will need to be flexible and ready to change as the facts and circumstances of a situation may dictate. Demonstrate that it is OK to change your mind from time to time. Your willingness to do this can set the tone for change in your immediate work area. The higher your rank, the larger then is your work area with your department. 

A word of caution is in order at this time. Do not change your mind too often. This is called vacillation is not a good thing to do. Stand your ground when people assault you with dreaded complaints such as:

  • We've never done it that way.
  • We have always done it this way.
  • That's not how my father did it.
  • If it ain't broken, don't fix it. (Some people cannot tell the difference between fixed and broken)

I am suggest that one of the hallmarks of the 21st Century is that you will have to open up your mind to the new ways in which we are going to be doing business in the coming years. If you open your mind to the world around you, you will become better attuned to knowing when and where changes may be needed. You can perform a valuable service by standing up and showing your department how to change.