Excerpts from Larry and David Conley’s keynote “Powerless,” delivered at FDIC International 2021 on Opening Ceremony Day 2, Thursday, August 5, at the Indiana Convention Center Sagamore Ballroom in Indianapolis:
“Good morning. My name is Larry Conley. I am a 29-year veteran of the St. Louis (MO) Fire Department. As much as I hate to admit it, there have been times when I have felt … powerless. It is not something we like to talk about in the fire service. Still, the message gets out. There are more suicides in the fire service than line-of-duty deaths. Think about that for a second. Today, I am going to talk about how to maximize your greatest resource, YOU. I am going to show you how paying attention to 5 areas of your life can keep you refreshed and less likely to feel … powerless.
“David and I go around the country teaching a personal leadership model called the EMPOWER model. Our belief is when you internalize this model, you develop practices that improve your life. This model helps you realize, develop, and manage your power in a way that potentially makes yo”u the best version of yourself.
“The elements of the EMPOWER model are Endvision, Mutual Victory, Being Proactive, Organizing Priorities, Working Together, Empathetic Listening, and Recharge.
“Endvision involves creating a clear mental picture of your goal. What does the end look like? Imagine this goal in great detail. It is the blueprint to build, to create, to achieve, to become whatever you want. It is the compass that keeps you on your True North. One way to solidify your personal Endvision is to compose a personal Constitution. The personal constitution, like the American Constitution, will create an unshakable foundation to build your best self.
“Mutual Victory suggests thinking of every human interaction in a way that gets the best result for all parties involved. This principle works great for conflict resolution but even better for creating a psychologically safe environment for you and everyone around you. It relieves the stress and anxiety related to the need to win inherent in most interactions. Mastering this element is very important in promoting peace in your daily life.
“Proactive people are some of the most EMPOWERed people alive. They tend to be better prepared for stressful situations. This is because the way they live their lives promotes constant preparation. Being Proactive means you make things happen more than react to things happening to you.
“Organizing Priorities is about putting the things that matter most before the things that matter least. Though this seems obvious, a lot of us live our lives without prioritizing things like our health, our families, and our emotional well-being. When you master the ability to identify and prioritize things in your life from most important to least important, you are more efficient with time and with what you allow to stress and distract you.
“Working Together involves promoting the strengths of everyone in your circle. While identifying everyone’s strong suits, you validate the contributions of anyone in your circle. You treat everyone, including yourself, with equal high status. You promote unity and growth in relationships, building bridges instead of walls. This type of unity is crucial to an organization as tight knit as the fire service.
“Empathetic Listening addresses one of the greatest human needs–the need to be understood. You would be surprised how much richer your relationships become when you learn to really hear the other person’s point of view and they really hear yours. One thing that makes a person feel the most powerless is shouting into a void. What you drive, what you wear, your job– everything you do says hear me.
“Recharge is, to me, the most important element. It dramatically reduces the feeling of powerless-ness. It is obviously most important in fighting against that feeling. How many people have cell phones with less than 50% power right now? Phone companies make millions of dollars on portable chargers for the express purpose of preventing your phone from being rendered powerless. If we do all we can to recharge our phones, why do we spend so little time recharging ourselves? When that phone is depleted, we say it’s dead. When we are depleted in one or more of the five areas, we run the risk of suffering that same fate. The five areas I am talking about are Spiritual, Emotional, Mental, Physical and Social. Not recharging these areas of your life can have a profound and detrimental effect on your performance and personal well-being. The effects range from diminished performance to depression and suicide. The abrupt violent self-destruction illustrated earlier is one way to commit suicide, but a lot of us are committing a slow suicide. Bad diet and bad habits take a toll on our health, contributing to heart attacks. Heart attacks are the number one cause of firefighter deaths. Suicides outnumber LODDs. We are an industry dedicated to saving lives, but we give little to no thought about our own. We have to do better.
“Spiritual. My brother David and I were raised with a spiritual foundation. Having a base in the belief of a higher power has been a comfort for me in trying times. Having a connection to something bigger than yourself can be inspiring and clarifying. My faith, and some of the rituals used to fortify it, have kept me centered when all around me tempted me to chaos. Your faith or spiritual allegiance is a deeply personal thing. It is also very necessary. Don’t ignore it. Take time to study, pray, meditate, to connect and align your spiritual self. Learn to believe the impossible is possible and watch miracles happen.
“Mental. Your mental fitness and readiness are crucial to your excellence as a firefighter. The type of mental health I am talking about involves growing your knowledge base. Challenging your mind increases your IQ intellectually, vocationally, and culturally. The way we did things just ten years ago has evolved. Has your knowledge evolved with it? If not, you risk suffering from mental atrophy. How do I increase my mental fitness? Become a student of firefighter tactics. Study a foreign language or culture. Try reading more books. Try a challenging new hobby. There are many ways to expand your knowledge about…anything.
“Physical. Firefighters are industrial athletes. We are consistently called on to exert ourselves in an effort to save lives. Operating at less than optimum health puts the public, our performance, and our very lives in danger. Physically recharging your body ensures you have the strength, stamina, and flexibility to do your best for the community you serve. Get regular checkups. Exercise regularly. Improve your diet. Not managing your physical resources is the same as neglecting or damaging the equipment used to do your job.
“Emotional. Our emotional stability, though crucial, is often overlooked. As first responders, we see some of the worst things imaginable, over and over again. Each call takes a little toll on me emotionally. Pressing it down, locking it away became a habit. Suicide, heart attack, emotional breakdown, failed relationships with spouse and kids, depression …. We have to be proactive about seeking help to carry this burden. There is no shame or weakness to get help for emotional stress and strain. Most departments have a support program. Contact them or another professional. Be strong enough to advocate for yourself. Please.
“Social. Firefighters are family. In my 29 years I have enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship of my brother and sister firefighters all over the world. Still, there are firefighters that feel alone, like their public smile is only useful at hiding their private pain. They laugh and joke, drink and smoke with others but never reveal an emptiness inside. They are depleted. Three simple words may be able to reach them. Three simple words may let them know that someone cares and they are not alone. Those three words are: Are. You. Okay? These three words, asked with sincerity and compassion, can trigger a trust that allows them to lean on someone they call family, someone sworn to save lives … you. When they open up, three more words seal the commitment to validate the brotherhood and sisterhood that is the fire service. It upholds the promise that says if you are falling through the floor, without thought or hesitation, I will reach out, grab you, and not let go. With my grip around your wrist, these next three words become real. I. Got. You. Then help pull them up. Get them on solid ground. Social interaction as it pertains to festivities etc. is fine, but make sure we check in on each other. Invest in making sure you and your brothers and sisters in the fire service stay recharged. How can our promise to save citizens be taken seriously if we welch on the promise to save family?
“Five areas of the Recharge principle. Ensuring each area is replenished helps prevent you from feeling Powerless. The five areas are Spiritual. Mental. Emotional. Physical and Social. Five areas, five fingers. Fingers are a part of that hand. Reach it out. Come on, reach it out to me. I got you.”