Larry C. Conley: Command CHI: FDIC International - April 24th - 29th 2017

Posted by Larry Conley on Sunday, October 30, 2016 Under: Larry Conley

Larry C. Conley: “Command CHI”

By Larry C. Conley

We live in times where information comes very fast. Television stays on all night. Even humans seem to operate on a 24-hour clock. We sleep, but we don't rest. We fill ourselves with instant coffee and microwave food. We engross ourselves in TV on demand, smart phones, smart cars, and so on.  Advances in technology are not all bad, but when technology and life's demands distract and control us, our personal life management suffers. Since no one is immune to technology's effects, there is a high risk that first responders will manage dangerous incidents while preoccupied by the aforementioned ills. In the vortex of a high-speed life and the responsibility regarding the lives on the line, can an incident commander achieve peace?

For more than 35 years, my brother has been a student and sensei in martial arts. His definition of CHI is "the life force inside all things. It can be harnessed and manipulated by the practiced. It must be channeled correctly and balanced, or it could be disastrous." The dictionary describes CHI as, vital energy that is held to animate the body internally and is of central importance in some Eastern systems of medical treatment (as acupuncture) and of exercise or self-defense (as tai chi).

We have to find the center, the quiet, the peace, the order, the Chi.  We must command Personal Chi to make us better for Incident Command ChiCommand Chi's secret lies in its daily practice and fortification before the incident. Mastery improves professional and personal order. We've all seen movie images showing action happening at warp speed while in the mist of it all a person is operating at normal speed. The person is aware of, but not fazed by, the environment. Images like that are great representations of how Command Chi looks. This by no means suggests that you don't recognize the serious nature of the environment.

Your Command Chi is the calm in the chaos. You make wise decisions. Wise decisions are better than good decisions. You act when those around you are reacting. You have peace in a chaotic environment. You are walking on water when others appear to be drowning. This is not an arrogant state of mind but an inner strength that anchors things at the incident. If the leader displays a sense of panic and heightened emotion at the same level as those in peril, is this healthy for the incident? This is more than not getting upset. This does not mean you're not fully engaged.Command Chi actually makes you more focused, more fully engaged. Command Chi is the discipline before the emergency that allows you to confidently operate during the emergency. When you master self, everything else subordinates.


Mastery of self is likened to being a gardener. There is no such thing as a maintenance-free garden.  When we see a beautiful garden, someone is currently and constantly working on it. Weeds spring up daily in the garden. Creatures disturb the garden. Weather alters the conditions. Disturbances are guaranteed to happen. We may not know when, but we do know it will happen. Therefore, constant work is required. The gardener who does not consider disturbances and act accordingly is a frustrated gardener. Stress factors in, and the garden suffers. Mastery of the garden is revealed in the results. Greenery, vibrant colors, healthy soil, and strong roots are characteristics of a healthy, well-maintained garden.

We keep similar qualities of the garden when we live with intention. The simple disciplines constantly practiced strengthen our core even when there seems to be no progress. Surprisingly when we are tested, squeezed, pressured, or challenged, our self-mastery will rise to the occasion. Conversely, neglecting to constantly, silently, feed the core disciplines will crush us through our weakness.  As firefighters, we work in too many dynamic environments and can't possibly prepare for all the unique circumstances we encounter. With Command Chi as your foundation, emergencies big and small will have a more favorable outcome, favorable in the sense that even in the most negative of circumstances you will remain calm, confident, grounded, and wise. You will consequently create a better outcome for this and future incidents.

In the personal leadership workshop my brother and I teach, we show participants a model called the “EMPOWER model.” This model fortifies personal leadership. The "R" in the EMPOWER model represents "Recharge." Of all the elements of the EMPOWER model,
this can be the most challenging because of our world today.

Technology is a great servant but a very bad master. Studies show the average person spends more than nine hours a day on some electronic device, connected to the world. This means we are constantly "plugged in."  Information, good and bad, reaches us constantly, instantly.

I like to people watch. I can remember people watching years ago, pre cell phone and personal computer. People read newspapers and for the most part talked to each other. Pay phones lined terminals, which meant fewer people were talking or preoccupied with electronic devices. I people watch today, and the environment is very different. People for the most part are still friendly and engaging but not at the same strength as before because we are all "plugged in." 

The Power of “Recharge”

As I work to master the "Recharge" habit, one of the hardest practices I had to master was unplugging. Every negative thought bombarded my brain and spirit. What was I missing? What will happen if I’m not there to handle business, personal and professional?  The phone, tablet, and laptop had become an extension of me. Without the electronics, I felt amputated. All the thoughts I had not given time to were suddenly front and center. I didn't have the luxury of being too plugged in to deal with them. No social media, e-mails, etc., just me and the loud silence. As my brain searched for cause and connection, I began to rediscover me. As my spirit slowed, I could hear voices that were put on mute, speak again. Slowly, my core began to RECHARGE. With peace identified, I regained command of my CHI. Values were redefined. All important things got a fresh set of eyes. Unplugging actually got me more connected in ways I couldn't have imagined. I became plugged into my center.  When the center is discovered, it can power the YOU that YOU were meant to be.   Command-Chi is not possible without periodic Recharge. Unplug to connect. Recharge from the inside out, and everything that grows from that soil will bear amazing fruit. I study and adjust my health, my relationships, as well as my short-term, intermediate and long-term goals.

Years ago, I watched the movie The Karate Kid. Daniel asked Mr. Miyogi how he mastered pruning the Bonsai tree. The sensei instructed his student to close his eyes and picture the tree.  After Daniel pictured the tree and opened his eyes, he was instructed to make the tree look like the picture. Recharge gives you the opportunity to see the detailed picture of how you want the quality of your life to look. When you plug back into life, prune life to look like the picture.  As you subordinate life to look like the picture, Command-Chi is achieved.

Command-Chi leadership is driven more by example than verbal instruction. What you do speaks so loud that I can't hear what you are saying. This is a universal principle of communication. When harnessed correctly, it can be a powerful tool in your leadership. Where you fall short in feeding your core will reveal itself at key moments in the guidance of things. The go to maneuver will be to compensate by raising your voice, personal status attacks, falsely attempting to build your dominance of those in your charge. This intimidation leadership will insidiously destroy credibility. Long-term quality relationships needed for strong teams will not be achieved. Your example of Command-Chi will inspire others to feed and fortify their Command-Chi. This will result in the TEAM-CHI needed to take your teams to new levels of aCHIevement. Positivity and negativity spread at the same rate. Bad leadership habits passed on create a legacy of bad leadership habits. Great leadership habits can create a legacy of good habits if the vision, ownership, and intentional behavior are central to the plan. Whatever you feed gets stronger.  What you don't feed starves. Command-Chi feeds a consistent diet that feeds greatness in the human spirit. It starves all habits that threaten greatness. Too many of us feed mediocre; good enough; and, in some cases, flat out failure. Reprogramming a bit over time can turn our habits into the power needed to make greatness almost automatic.  We are the sum total of decisions we make and habits we develop. Honest inventory will reveal this truth. There are definitely things in life beyond our control; however, we handle crisis better when the strength of our habits and decisions are our foundation.

Hopefully, by now you have realized that Command-Chi is deeper and more powerful than just Command. It’s the mastered command on all cylinders that matter BEFORE occupational command.  I've witnessed people who chase occupational command only to fall short of all that true command requires.  You may be able to fool the system for a while; but, eventually, you will face yourself in public or in private. It is there that the fallacy of chasing occupational command alone will be revealed. Command-Chi gives you power to complement all the professional training you will ever receive Master Command BEFORE the incident to be more a more effective incident commander. It all starts with your Chi, yourCommand-CHI......aCHIeve more with Command Chi.


Larry Conley is a captain in the St. Louis (MO) Fire Department, where he has served for 24 years. He is the creator the GLUE (Growing Leaders Using Empowerment) personal leadership model.  He is camp director for the Missouri Children’s Burn Camp. He is chairman and a board member of several fire service-related organizations including the St. Louis Firefighter’s Credit Union, and the International Society of Fire Service Instructors.

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