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Jan. 3. 2016, Winnipeg - If you’re thinking of getting your 2016 off to a great start you could make one of those new year’s resolutions to get in shape – where you work out hard for about two weeks, then start slowly making excuses as you miss workouts and rationalize away your fitness goals to the point at which it is everything else and everyone’s else’s fault but yours that you failed. 

Sounds harsh I know, but I’ve been there; I speak from experience on this one and I know some of you have also struggled with goals at some point in your own lives. What if we got past these minor mental letdowns and we turned them around to be connected strings of successes? This could add up to our best year ever! This new year, instead of making a physical commitment for better health, maybe it’s time to make an ideological change. Maybe it’s time we train our brains to move past the temporary failures of promises not kept and take control of our lives for once and for all. Imagine what that kind of power could do for your goals. Maybe this is your year to take responsibility for your life and truly achieve what it is you’re after! I wanted to share with as many firefighters as possible a new book that teaches you how to take ownership of your life.

Now I will never profess to being a professional book reviewer, however my own journey of development has allowed me to read too many leadership, management and improvement books that all start to say the same things, with the same ideas, and the same objectives that ultimately form the basis for a murky picture of what self leadership truly is. The problem is most of the books are not for firefighters, or do not have the linkages to our culture and way of thinking. I don’t have to tell you that our way is unique to almost every other vocation out there. So finding resources that can inspire us is a tall task. Until now. 

I received and quickly devoured Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin as a gift this Christmas. Willink and Babin didn’t know they were writing a book specifically for firefighters; in fact they actually were writing the book for everyone because in my opinion they see at times a problematic world which, in their words, a lack of extreme ownership is the No. 1 issue. There has never been a book not written for firefighter that is so truly intended for firefighters.

Extreme Ownership does not make any groundbreaking revelations about leadership.

Truth be told, no one has made any major advancements in academic theory on the subject in years, so what we are left with is who can best clearly explain the concepts in a way that resonates for your unique situation. The book’s power comes from the simple and clear messages told through epic stories of battlefield conflict in the United States-led Iraq war on terror in the city of Ramadi, and how the lessons learned relate to your life and business. Both the authors were there as Navy Seal leaders who led SEAL Team Three’s task unit Bruiser. Their stories will make every firefighter take a good hard look at his or her own personal accountability and ask if he or she has the ownership required to succeed.

How SEALs think, operate, and maintain a culture teamwork and discipline is not unique to just their profession as the fire service embodies much of the same thinking. However, Navy SEALs take leadership to the extreme. For this reason it makes perfect sense for SEALs to coach firefighters on teamwork, leadership and brotherhood.

I remember being in a bar in New York City just blocks away from Ground Zero called Suspenders on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 when a about half a dozen Navy Seals came  down the stairs to where more than 100 firefighters from all over North America were enjoying a few beers and celebrating the lives lost 10 years ago. Within a few minutes, word had spread around the bar about who these gentleman were, then the line started. I’ve never seen firefighters star struck; certainly no other emergency service workers would command so much respect, but these men became the focus of the evening much to their chagrin. The SEALs were humble and respectful, shaking hands and accepting the appreciation.  Their team took a corner table in the back of the bar, backs to the wall as if to scope out the exits and survey the room. It will always be one of my fondest memories of my NYC trip.

So if you have ever wanted to learn, grow, and expand your knowledge on leadership but were hesitant to dig into what you might think is a management book or a dry academic text, this book will be your new mantra. One of the authors, Willink, has already inspired me with his 5 a.m. postings of photos on social media of his militant discipline for taking charge of his life. It is my goal to challenge this man and make myself better by getting up before him and posting my work out before he even gets out of bed!

There are no direct references to the fire service in the book but there are more than a dozen fully applicable tactics and strategies that will have you thinking these naval specialists wrote the book on some of our traditional rules and methods that have been a part of us for more than a century. One of the best chapters is Chapter 2, No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders, which uses story of switching the leaders of two opposing boat crews that are on complete opposite ends of the success spectrum. How it turns out and the lesson learned are so applicable to our own fire service issues that I think the authors might have written the story about us.

So this is where I turn the page and leave you with your own ability to choose. Will you take extreme ownership? I know what I want to do; this book has given me the fuel to make some positive steps through which I take ownership. Happy new year and here’s to owning our futures!

Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg, and an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @firecollege

January 3, 2016 
By Jay Shaw

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