A backdraft occurs when a fire becomes starved of oxygen. Combustion ceases, while the fuel, gases and smoke in the closed area remain at a high temperature. If oxygen is reintroduced into the area, such as by opening a door or window, combustion can restart. This often occurs in the form of an explosion as the heated gases expand.
The topic of this article isn’t about fighting fires, at least not in a literal sense. It’s about fighting management fires with some suggestions to help you manage your career and ways to avoid being caught in a management “backdraft.” For new managers, this article may help guide some future actions. For those seasoned (not old) managers, it may show you a solution or two before things get out of hand in your organization.
In the 1991 movie “Backdraft”, one of the characters says, “That blinking red light in the corner of your eye is your career dissipation light.” This is a good line, but it isn’t something you want to hear in your career. Like a fire that starts out small and grows into an inferno, usually a series of events occurs before someone loses their job. Avoiding some of the potential fires in your organization may make you a better manager and can certainly lead to a more effective organization.
To be a supervisor, or manager of an EMS operation you first have to want to be in charge. You’re in the position to make decisions, guide the actions of other employees and make sure service is delivered. Managers who can’t or don’t make decisions will find themselves with severe organizational problems. Ignoring a problem or issue doesn’t make it go away. It may die down for a period of time, but it will almost always need to be resolved or addressed at some point.
Being afraid to make a decision is worse than making the wrong decision. You certainly can’t function in the field as an EMS provider under those circumstances. The patient you’re treating needs to have you take some course of action, and likewise your organization needs you to take a course of action in tough situations.
A spark that causes new managers problems — especially those promoted from within — is to make immediate and drastic changes and expect everyone to embrace those without any questions. This has a special point if you were one of the groups that always pushed the limits on rules and now you become a strict enforcer of the rules. You need to build up your credibility over a period of time and demonstrate your new style to your co-workers.
Another common action that results in flames in your organization is trying to please everyone — at the same time. One thing you quickly learn is that it’s impossible to keep everyone happy at the same time. If you try, you won’t be successful. You also send the message that you’re not a leader. Leaders have to make the hard choices and hard decisions, and in some cases members of an organization won’t agree with what you decide. But your role as a leader is to lead, not to try to please everyone.
Focusing just on the problems and forgetting to look at the rest of the organization is also something that often consumes managers and supervisors. You get caught up in dealing with and trying to correct problems that you don’t take the time to appreciate the positive and good areas within your organization, such as your personnel. Problems and issues must be addressed. However, don’t spend all your time and resources on problem management. Keep a big-picture perspective.
A blaze that can become an organizational bonfire is losing touch with your employees. Failing to keep up with their lives, stay involved in them and having them know about you makes you out of touch with the heart of the organization. Losing touch can lead to an increased number of problems you didn’t become aware of until they were already big ones. Working alongside your employees will result in a better working environment for everyone and will make the organization more efficient.
Treating your employees with intimidation and threats is like adding gas to an open flame. Forcing people to follow you only goes so far. You can’t demand respect; you have to earn it. I’ve seen new managers come in and start every conversion with a criticism. The employees begin to dread talking with their boss. Instead of finding ways to make their boss happy, they become the silent, disgruntled majority. If this happens and you ever need their support to put out another fire, such as work on an extra or special project, you won’t have their cooperation. You can better influence your employees’ behaviors and actions by being a role model and encouraging or coaching them rather than by frequently criticizing them.
Should you ever get burned in an organization, don’t let that affect you for the rest of your career. If you can start over, take those lessons learned and work harder to be better in the future. Often, lessons learned from mistakes have the greatest impact in our lives.
Hopefully you won’t get caught at work in a management backdraft that ends your career. Focus on taking care of your people first and dealing with problems when they occur. Hopefully, this will help you make it through your career without getting burned.