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Fighting the Fire with Resilience

Profound moments can happen when we least expect them.


Think of one of yours.


During an exhausting flight last week from Dayton, Ohio, to Missoula, Montana, I found myself spending the night in Denver due to flight delays.

What was supposed to be a 6 hour trip had taken 30 hours. But all’s well that ends well.  I was welcomed by the smiling administrator, Mikel Robinson and her assistant, Kim Skufca.  I had arrived just in time to present my speech entitled:


 Resilience:  The Ultimate Leadership Skill — How to Build it in Yourself and Others


Several years ago, I was asked to participate in a think tank on the subject of resilience.  It was sponsored by Dr. Bart Barthelemy’s Wright Brothers Institute to help understand our returning veteran’s upsurge in suicide. Little did I know what an impact that experience would have on my life.


I have always been an optimistic person and even though–like most people–I have experienced my fair share of life’s challenges, I still have a core belief that everything is ultimately going to be okay.  I feel blessed to have this core belief as I know many people who do not.  At a young age, when faced with major career decisions, I was not afraid to take certain risks…like starting my own business. Failure was never an option. So for these many years, I have been fortunate to teach and meet incredible people from all over the world.  In this year alone, I have taught everyone from Native Americans to CPAs to Fire Chiefs.  My training specialties have become….Building High Performance Work Teams and now…Resilience: The Ultimate Leadership Skill.  When I’m not teaching, I am coaching people how to design their lives so that they are fulfilling and have meaning.  In fact, one of the most important habits of resilient people is that they live with a sense of purpose.  Accenture, the management consulting company, says that 71% of Senior Executives cite resilience as a key factor in deciding which employees to retain.


So when Bob Drake, a CFO in one of my Western CPE classes and an administrator for the Tri-Lakes Volunteer Fire Department in East Helena, Montana asked me to be a keynote speaker at the 2018 Montana State Fire Chiefs Convention, I was thrilled to accept.  The keynote was about the power of having a resilient attitude even in the very difficult situations which firefighters face every day.


When the world is filled with so much bad news, it is refreshing to meet a group of people whose core values include:  integrity, commitment, knowledge and respect.  It was good to hear of their brotherhood and sisterhood, of how they care for each other and how they run into danger…sometimes giving the ultimate sacrifice.  On Friday night at the banquet and awards ceremony, I was moved when I heard bagpipes and the bell ringing in memory of the fallen firefighters.  Seldom do we stop and really think about the sacrifices that others have made for us and seldom do we think about the resilience it takes to keep on keeping on.


Somehow, resilient people are able to keep their eyes on the goal and they just don’t know how to give up.  They understand that their decisions determine their destiny.  Dr. Dan Amen says that when a person lives through a tragedy, adapts and grows from it, it adds an extra healthy 7 years to their life.  He calls it “Post-traumatic growth”.


Resilient people understand that there are often opportunities in their adversities.  Every problem we have can have a gift for us in its hands if we don’t give up too soon.  Resilient people also understand the importance of getting better and not bitter.


The 7 Habits of resilient people include:

  1. Living with a sense of purpose
  2. Hanging out with positive people
  3. Thinking long term
  4. Finding healthy ways to recharge
  5. Keeping things in perspective
  6. Quickly forgiving themselves and others
  7. Squelching the negative voices in their heads


I believe that resilience can be learned.  What started out as a very bad trip to Montana, ended up being a major blessing. Thank you, Mikel and Bob, for one of the most memorable teaching experiences of my life. You and your Fire Chiefs have renewed my faith in humanity.


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