Fire Fighting in Canada

Leadership Forum: Staying positive in a negative world

December 1, 2022 
By Chris Harrow

How many times have you heard in the past year, “This is quite the world we live now. The world and people’s attitudes have changed so much, and not for the better.”  It can’t only be me, but I have to agree the world has come to feel like much more negative.  It doesn’t seem to matter which area you work in or where you hang out in your spare time, negativity is the go-to feeling for many issues.  The fire service is definitely not exempt.

Watching the evening news or reading articles online, there is a plethora of negative thoughts and stories. The social media universe is a whole other animal we need to stay away from in certain circumstances.  The negativity can suck you in and play a lot of tricks with your mind and your overall general well-being.  

Before this article gets too doom and gloom, I want to look at ways we, as leaders, can avoid the negativity we face on a daily basis.  This is a top five list of tactics we can deploy to turn our workspace into a more positive atmosphere for ourselves and those around us. The benefits of turning your workplace into a more positive environment are huge. It leads to more productivity, more creativity, and it is all around healthier for all of those involved.  

During adverse times, stay away from social media. Many people’s first tendency during times of controversary is to go to social media to see what people are saying. Many times, it ends up exacerbating the situation. Posts can be relentless and ruthless because there are essentially no consequences for posting what you want. The leader is better off staying off social media and not worry about what people are saying.  Follow the old saying, “what you don’t know, can’t hurt you.”  


Implement an unwritten policy about complaints and concerns brought to your attention.  I read a long time ago that a great rule for leaders to implement is that those bringing complaints and concerns must also have to bring a solution for the problem. I saw this utilized when our municipality was holding delegations with government officials. The mayor and CAO were always firm on taking a package to the delegation that would identify the problem, but then go into more detail about the solution they were proposing to fix it. The same concept can be deployed in your department. Please bring forward your concerns, but also be prepared to bring a solution that we can work together to make changes.  It really curbs the gut reaction to complaints that may come forward.

Find the positive in every situation. This can be difficult to do but once mastered, it can make your own mental health better. Some situations will be very hard to find good in, but it can be done if you can put yourself in the right frame of mind.  Many years ago, my father-in-law passed away from colorectal cancer at a young age. It was a devastating loss for our family. It took a little bit, but we soon realized that his passing brought on a lot of conversations and we discovered that cancer ran in my wife’s family. Because of this, many of her family members went and got tested and at least two others had cancer discovered at an early age that saved their lives. His death saved the lives of his other family members.

Happiness is a choice. If you are in a negative situation at your workplace, you can still choose happiness. You can change jobs or choose to try and change others in your workplace to become happier. It is also easier to battle negativity with happiness. I find many people don’t know how to handle someone who responds back in a positive manner. 

Say a simple please or thank you in more situations. This seems over simplistic, but can be so effective.  We all know what it is like when you get a thank you from a member of your team, it can really boost your emotions and give you immediate validation that your efforts are getting noticed. Just remember to return the favour some time to a fellow team member or person around you.

Finding that ray of sunshine in your day-to-day life can greatly help your mental health. It takes a lot of effort to begin and then maintain this mentality.  There will be a bunch of forces that will try to derail you, but stay the course. It is absolutely amazing how having a positive attitude can change your outlook. Try it and I guarantee you will notice it right away. 

We all have to do something to change the outlook of many workplaces and communities.  

Chris Harrow is the director of fire services for the Town of Minto and Township of Wellington North in Ontario. He is a graduate from fire programs at Lakeland College and Dalhousie University and holds a graduate certificate in Advanced Care Paramedics from Conestoga College. He can be reached at 

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