Ditch the Slogans

I was in Iowa recently where I had the opportunity to Keynote the Iowa Society of Fire Service Instructors conference and also make a stop in Council Bluffs to present “The 8 Attitudes of Servant Leadership.” What an awesome educational opportunity the Instructors Society’s conference was for the fire service in Iowa. As I walked the campus of Iowa State University I was constantly face to face with a picture hanging on a wall with a slogan on it. You know the type — think outside the box, your actions speak louder than words, attitude is everything. This is not unusual by any means. Just walk into many offices and businesses and you will see the same type of venue. Even I have been guilty of doing the same thing in fire stations. Since I was teaching several days worth of officer/instructor development and leadership, I decided to do a little experiment. I ask several of the attendees who had passed by these pictures with slogans several times at least first if they had noticed them and secondly could they tell me what they said. Out of 20 students I polled only six that stated they had noticed them and only two could tell me what was even written on one of them. This set me to really thinking. Just how effective are these wall hanging picture/slogans. Obviously they were not jumping out and inspiring people like we would hope they would be doing. It is obvious that these were not producing any lasting value. image

Slogans may sound great, but in order for them to be effective these concepts have to be read, contemplated on and action taken to make them effective. Most times we never get past the reading portion. If you want success you have to chose the right setting where individuals are looking specifically for these motivational slogans. They must see leaders and mentors living these out and teaching them as part of the organization culture.

Slogans may sound great, but in order to take the organization to the higher levels, people don’t need these platitudes, they need tools. So what are these tools?


The first is the environment/culture that is conducive for growth. This means having the right atmosphere, opportunities and mind set that is fostered from the top down and the bottom up, and especially in the middle — company officers. We have to make sure that we are setting an environment/culture for individuals who make up the organization to be able to perform at their peak performance. We must also be working to enhance their growth and development to take them to the next level.

What We Can Do

  1. Create a workplace that provides meaning and purpose for our employees. A place where they feel they are making a difference.
  2. Show and tell your staff they are appreciated. Go out of your way to say thank you and show your appreciation when staff members go above and beyond. Awards, banners, recognition and appreciation events and just a simple thank you are great starters.
  3. Encourage your staff to find and utilize their talents. This is where mentors develop staff in these areas. This includes talking to your employees, especially those who are not performing to your department and officer’s expectations. Maybe they are bored or unchallenged in their position. Sometimes moving them to a different position in the organization that is of more interest to them, or stretch them a little in new realms that can provide a challenge or that utilizes their skills and personality better would be just what the doctor ordered. Guess what? Everyone will most likely be happier.Maybe it’s time to recommend to the employee that its time to make a career change. Offer to provide them a transition time, and maybe assist them with the search to find a position that will make them happy. Explain to them that there is nothing wrong with admitting that your organization or position is not right for them personally. Change is good as many times people become unchallenged, complacent or discouraged. Encourage the employee to do what is best for them and most likely your organization will benefit from this decision as well.
  4. Spend money on the work environment. It is a wise investment. Little things can go along way in improving the work environment.


  1. Knowledge is power but only if you share it. You as a leader, sharing this knowledge, can help you and your personnel reach new goals and functioning levels.
  2. Training is the process of teaching a person a particular set of skills for an art, a profession or a job task. We need more than just skills or behaviors in today’s environment and definitely in the future environments that are destined to come.
  3. Education is the process of teaching someone in a school, college or university the knowledge, the skill and most importantly the understanding of the whole. In other words the “how” and “why” components.
  4. Experience is the accumulation of knowledge that occurs from repeatedly performing actions or witnessing others execute them. This includes occurrences that happen to you during a specific length of time where the situations may vary in uniqueness and complexity.
  5. Self-development is the awareness, attitude and personal attributes you have cultivated, mentored, developed and matured with, which must be individually developed and refined based upon the combination of training, education and experiences. Self-development requires you as an individual to be an opportunist. When the opportunity presents itself, you must be quick to seize the opportunity before it is gone and you miss the experiences and knowledge you could be afforded from it.

As you can see there is far more to motivating and developing someone than just placing slogans on walls or in messages. It is a daunting task of never ending effort on the part of leaders, individuals and organizations focusing on the goal of developing people for the betterment of the organization. Are you and your organization just providing slogans or are you up for to this marathon of a task of truly creating a great organization through the most valuable resource — the people who are the organization?  The challenge is now on you to decide.

Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Rescue. He is the Executive Editor for The Fire Officer and Executive Director for the Command Institute in Washington D.C. A 36 year fire and emergency services veteran as well as a well-known international speaker, Cline is a highly published author of articles, blogs and textbooks for both fire and EMS. As a chief officer, Cline is a distinguished authority of officer development and has traveled internationally delivering distinguished programs on leadership and officer development. He also has a diverse line of training videos on leadership, rapid intervention team training, vehicle fires, hose line management, and emergency vehicle operations and fire ground safety and survival.

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