On September 11th, we remember the memories and sacrifice of those who died in the World Trade Center Towers, the brave passengers on flight 93, at the Pentagon, and those who lost their lives fighting terrorism.

For me and my family, we think especially of those who sacrificed their lives in an attempt to save others, as my family suffered the loss of a cousin, Levittown Fire Chief Ron Kerwin.  Ron was a firefighter for 20 years, rising through the ranks from volunteer firefighter to member of Ladder Co. No. 1, then Captain and Deputy Chief and then onto his final role.  His bravery–and those of hundreds of others that day–is something I simply cannot wrap my head around.  First responders leave their homes every day to give all.

His was a career and life of doing what he loved–helping others–while operating with significant risk to himself.

First responders, like Ron and hundreds of thousands of others like him, teach us lessons that we can utilize every day. We can use their examples in our own lives–both to honor them and to help our families and businesses succeed.

What can you learn?

  1.  Don’t judge a book by its cover– Ask anyone in a police department and they’ll tell you that some of the best dressed and most affluent can be the worst to deal with.  And, having worked with construction leaders earlier in my career, I came to realize that some of the wealthiest people in that industry may have to show up to meetings sweaty and dirty.  But they cut multi-million dollar deals. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt in your career where possible and this principle will come back to benefit you.
  2. Be respectful–No matter what the situation, treat others with dignity. Police officers who can calmly and respectfully deal with assailants are more likely to come out of a situation safely.  It’s no different in business.  Learning to defuse a troubling situation rather than pour gasoline on the fire can help you turn around business challenges and protect relationships.
  3. Pay attention to your surroundings–Firefighters are working on two different levels while putting out a blaze.  They’re both laser-focused on the task ahead, but also looking for warning signs that could affect their team and escape if a situation goes bad.  Ask good questions and pay attention to what questions those around you ask of others.  Listening well will always take you farther than talking.
  4. Communication–Communicating with team members during an active incident can save lives.  In business, it can save careers, money, and create opportunities for success.  And it builds trust.
  5. Assemble a Team You Can Trust–Having partners you know trust to have your back is vital to success–and in law enforcement, it can literally be a lifesaver.  If you have cultural challenges within your organization or employees, address them and don’t place people in harm’s way unnecessarily.
  6. Flexibility–First responders find themselves in situations that can get out of control quickly, but they have the mindset that allows them to adapt.  Practice flexibility in your life and career will earn you favors and also provide opportunities–simply because you can allow for multiple paths to get to ‘Yes’.
  7. A Culture of Sacrifice–We saw on that September day the courage and sacrifice that so many showed to protect others.  As a business leader, are you willing to stand up for your employees?  Or give up the perks to save your culture or bottom line? We recently saw the amazing example of the Cathay Pacific Airlines CEO Rupert Hogg resign after the Chinese government pressured the airline to release names of employees who had engaged in protests in Hong Kong. Hogg would not do so–and subsequently resigned.
  8. Run Toward the Fire–Those who gave their lives on 9/11 in an attempt to save others or those who fight fires or deal with active shooters are showing the ‘Run Toward the Fire’ mentality that problem-solvers must exhibit.  Do you let problems run their course and hope they’ll get better?  If so, you risk financial, legal, reputational and productivity challenges in the long run. It takes first responder-level grit and commitment to take challenges head-on and put out a fire or get a situation to ‘all clear’ status.
  9. Dedication–Are you giving 100%?
  10. Be a Team Player–Teamwork can save lives as a first responder and it can save your career.

People who put their lives on the line are a different breed–in the best of all ways.  Honor them by what they sacrifice for us–and for what we can learn from them.

Pete Havel is the author of The Arsonist in the Office: Fireproofing Your Life Against Toxic Coworkers, Bosses, Employees, and Cultures.  He is also a consultant, speaker and trainer in leadership, strategic communications and government relations. He can be reached at 855-NO-ARSON or pete@petehavel.comNever Forget

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