Often Attitude is the Only Difference Between Success and Failure

History’s greatest achievements have been made by individuals who excelled only slightly over the masses of other individuals in their respective fields. I am reminded of this when observing athletes.


Some individuals would look at a pile of rubble and say “what a mess” while others will look at the same pile and say “what an opportunity.”

Most have significant levels of talent. The same is true for the fire service. Most of our personnel have strong predicated skills, abilities and knowledge. So what puts the people excelling in front of the others? Most times that small difference is attitude.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to spend time with many different fire departments.  The late Ralph Jackman, fire chief in Vergennes, Vermont, captured the difference. In a conversation standing in the apparatus bay of the Vergennes Fire Department he commented that his department did not have the greatest equipment or the most fancy fire apparatus. In fact, he stated he sometimes struggled with the financial end of keeping up. He did quickly point out that that his personnel had passion, desire and the right attitude to serve, which was the critical factor in the success of the organization. He went on to further reiterate the importance of having a positive attitude and what that brings to the formula of success. He stated, “Give me someone who has a good attitude and I can work with them on the other things.”

Certainly aptitude is important to our success in life or the success of an organization. Yet anyone who has been around the fire service for more than a few days knows success or failure is precipitated more by mental attitude than by mere mental capacities. WE have to recognize the true importance of the total equation I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient) + A.Q. (Attitude Quotient) = Success or Failure. We have all witnessed individuals with an extremely high I.Q. and their performance was low and the opposite of low I.Q and high performance. The difference in each of these formulas is the attitude quotient. There is very little difference in people, but that little difference, attitude, makes a big difference.

So how do we become successful organizations excelling in all aspects? First we must have talented personnel in place. We must foster positive attitudes. This fostering is critical and it is not just the responsibility of the fire chief. Sure it may begin there but the critical dimension is within the officers, especially company officers. It is paramount that officers maintain a strong-positive attitude. The true leaders and trainers of today’s fire service are the company officers.  In many organizations it is glaringly apparent that the company officers don’t possess the correct attitudes. This is a serious issue because they begin to affect the troops, as their leadership is mostly what these individuals see. Just like cancer growing, attitudes spreads very quickly whether it is positive or negative.

Some individuals would look at a pile of rubble and say “what a mess” while others will look at the same pile and say “what an opportunity.” Which one of these individuals would you want leading the fire department you serve? Most would say the one who has a vision of what that “mess” could be. This is an excellent example of a positive attitude.

With all this said, how is your attitude? Before you answer, what would others say if they had this opportunity to answer? I encourage you to take a true examination here. As an officer, I hope my personnel have excellent minds and outstanding attitudes. But if I have to choose an “either-or” situation, without hesitation I would want their A.Q. (attitude) to be high!

Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Recue. 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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