Administration and Leadership, Columns

Learn from Your Superiors to Hone Leadership Skills

Issue 9 and Volume 39.

I’ve been blessed to have many wonderful bosses in my lifetime, and even to have some not-so-wonderful bosses. I’ve learned something from each one, whether it was a direct piece of advice or something I garnered from observing their leadership styles. After all, each one of them was only human and was faced with hundreds of possible decisions, usually in the course of a day.

Sometimes, of course, you’re going to make the wrong decision—and I’ve seen many wrong decisions in my 37-year career. I’ve also wondered what my boss what thinking when certain decisions were made, but I always chalked it up to the fact they were sitting at the 30,000-foot level and could see a lot more than what I could sitting at the 15,000-foot level.

Learning from Others
Throughout my career, I’ve received some sage advice from almost all of my superiors—even from those who weren’t good at their jobs, where I learned what not to do.

Through one of my bosses, I’ve learned the virtue of patience when making a decision. Faced with many decisions every day and sometimes with people looking for an immediate answer to a complex situation, he demonstrated the talent and the tolerance to take a breath and not make a snap decision. You’re not on an emergency scene somewhere, so why is it so necessary to make an immediate and speedy decision? Maybe there’s an opportunity to gather more facts, do a little more research or bounce the situation off someone else. He did this on many occasions. I’ve seen him make a decision only after sitting on it for a while, gathering additional information and giving some thought to all the consequences. He and I discussed this strategy many times and it seems to work well for him.

I admit I’m not that disciplined yet—my decision making sometimes follows my tendency to think I’m on an emergency scene somewhere where an immediate decision needs to be made.

Another boss I worked with was a very strategic thinker who would often project where the department should be in one, two, five or even 10 years, and he’d have a plan on how he expected to reach that vision. It was usually a multistep process. He told me the only constant is change and that an organization has to constantly change in order to stay progressive and stay in step with technology, tactics and other concepts that makes an emergency agency better than the rest. He was very political and knew exactly how to engage politicians in the process of change so they would support his calls to action. Many times he would share the credit with the politicians or give them the sole credit for the innovative change.

He also gave me a wonderful piece of advice about emergency scenes: If you think you’re going to need more resources, you should call for them as early as possible. If you don’t need them, you can always return them to service. In the case of fires, he said, “You should always stay one alarm ahead of the fire instead of trying to catch up.” In the case of EMS calls, if you have two patients and you don’t think you can transport both in the same ambulance, don’t hesitate to call for the second ambulance. If you discover you can transport both patients in one ambulance and the second ambulance hasn’t arrived yet, you can always cancel the request.

Conclusion
As an EMS manager, you should always be developing and honing your skills as a leader. Letting others coach or mentor you is an opportunity you should never pass up. Seek out those who are successful in their careers and engage them in conversation regarding those things that might have made them successful. It doesn’t always necessarily have to be an EMS manager or a fire chief—it might be a politician, community leader or maybe even one of your parents. You’ll learn a lot and, by repeating this process, develop into an excellent leader.