Fighting Dragons & Tilting at Windmills

The EMS Manager


David S. Becker | | Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Many years ago, there was a period of time usually referred to as "medieval." No, it wasn't the 1970s disco fad, but much further back. It was a time of kingdoms, brave knights and ferocious dragons. My favorite medieval tale is that of Don Quixote, which was adapted as the movie, "Man of La Mancha," starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren. Although written in 1605, the novel "Don Quixote" presents a timeless story about a man who believed strongly enough in his values to risk death during the Spanish Inquisition.

Simply put, it's a tale of man who decides the world needs someone to confront evil and stand up for those who can't protect themselves. He becomes a knight and starts out on a journey with only his moral compass and his integrity to make the world a better place through his actions. Even though he was somewhat delusional, Don Quixote changes many of the people he encounters--for the better. Did he think of himself as a leader? Not really. He just tried to make things as good as possible by following his beliefs.

Feeling quixotic?

Although being a leader at your EMS agency isn't quite as intense as the Spanish Inquisition (hopefully), a number of timeless lessons can be learned from the story of Don Quixote. Providing EMS to your community has its challenges, and whether the obstacles come from politicians, supervisors or the workplace culture, you must have a firm grip on your values and know to what extent you'll follow your ideals in the face of such hardships. If you don't, here are some essential leadership lessons from Don Quixote.

Know the difference between dragons and windmills: Don Quixote attacked what he thought was a dragon that was wreaking havoc on the people. After being defeated by it, Don Quixote saw it for what it really was--a mere windmill. Sometimes your perception of a problem or issue is different from reality, so remember to choose your battles and know what it is you're fighting, or fighting for, before you head into battle.

Do the right thing: Even if it means that you're the only one who follows that advice, you should listen to your conscience. Often, your friends or coworkers may exhibit cynical or defeatist attitudes toward addressing agency controversies. But it's more important to be an honest, respectable professional than it is to compromise your values to keep coworkers happy. Teamwork is important, but it should be for the benefit of your patients and success of your service, not for your own public image.

Go boldly without fear: Sometimes, you must fight an issue or problem that you know in advance you will lose. But in doing so, you show others the importance of the issue and spark a needed debate. It took a great deal of courage for Miguel Cervantes to write "Don Quixote" and challenge a powerful institution that was seeking to maintain control by force and intimidation.

Wear your armor when you take on a beast: Just as you would be prepared with appropriate PPE for an incident, be prepared for any issue you tackle. Gather the facts before debating an issue, and thicken your skin to take some verbal blows during any discussion.

Love life (and EMS) with a passion: EMS needs dedicated and motivated employees, both great leaders and followers. Life is too short for you to not enjoy your work, but be careful to not dedicate so much of yourself that you forget that life is for living. Remember to have an adventure once in a while.

Be loyal, be kind: Over a lifetime, friends come and go and it can be hard to stay in touch. Friendship and camaraderie are necessary coping mechanisms; you need a support system. Make an effort to check in and re-establish lost connections. And remember to see the good in people, as they do in you.

Dream the impossible dream: This song in "Man of La Mancha" stands as a good value statement. Think big, and take responsibility for making the world (or your agency or your community) better. Don't wait for someone else to start making an effort before you join in. Create your own vision for improvement, and share that vision with others. Nothing new was ever discovered by doing the same things over and over.

These leadership lessons from 400 years ago still apply to modern life.

Curious how you rate compared with Don Quixote? Take a "Kingdomality" personality test from the Career Management Institute This fun, eight-question test reveals your ideal medieval career.

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Related Topics: Leadership and Professionalism

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