Administration and Leadership, Columns

Exceptional Leaders Perform Beyond Their ‘Good’ Peers

Issue 2 and Volume 40.

What’s the difference between a good EMS leader and an exceptional EMS leader?

Good EMS leaders have good organizational skills. They can organize a quality improvement meeting and respond to a complaint from a local hospital, all while filling a drug order. Multitasking and sound decision-making are skills you must have to be a good EMS leader. Contrary to how they’ve been trained to make instant decisions, they’ve learned if it’s an administrative decision, they have the luxury of discretionary time. As long as they don’t have to make an immediate decision, they become objective thinkers and ponder their choices.

Most importantly, good EMS leaders also get things done. They look at the organization they’re running and objectively ask, “How can it get better?” Good EMS leaders are also those who can communicate well, whether it’s in writing or speaking to others.

Much of your success as an EMS leader will depend upon how much you care about your employees.

The Difference

All of the attributes described above sound pretty exceptional, so what makes a leader great? Good leaders can either have good organizational skills, make good decisions, get important things done or communicate effectively, but exceptional leaders have all four traits plus more.

Exceptional leaders care about their organization, their employees and, most importantly, those they serve. Much of your success as an EMS leader will depend upon how much you care about your employees. They can make or break you. Leaders who think with an “us versus them” mentality set themselves up for failure. I’ve seen it countless times during my career.

Exceptional EMS leaders give their employees autonomy to make decisions that better the organization. If you look at the profile of a person who works in EMS, they’re usually Type A personalities. They’re trained to make independent decisions, to be problem-solvers, and to leave any situation better than they found it. Why micromanage this type of personality? If you care about your employees, empower them to find solutions to problems that will improve the organization.

In addition, exceptional leaders provide opportunities for employees to have input on items that change the organization. Shut out and ignore your employees when you make changes in your organization and they’ll never embrace the changes you propose. Exceptional leaders find opportunities for their employees to offer ideas. It’s simple to do. Ask some leading questions like, “What do you think if we go with a different monitor/defibrillator?” When employees care about the organization they’re a part of, they want to offer their input and see the organization get better.

Although I’m advocating some autonomy for employees, I also believe it’s important leaders set clear expectations for how certain situations should be handled. One good example is customer service. You can give your employees a degree of independence, but that doesn’t mean they can talk to employees or family members any way they want. Fantastic customer service should be an expectation leaders convey to their employees.

Exceptional EMS leaders praise in public but criticize in private. This is especially true for lower-performing employees. No employee is going to be perfect—once in a while they’re going to mess up. The question is, did they do it intentionally or was it a mistake? Exceptional EMS leaders turn mistakes into coachable moments behind the scenes.

Conversely, exceptional leaders also praise in public. Your worst employees will do something right eventually. Don’t think they aren’t deserving of praise. Every employee deserves recognition at some point. Turn an employee around by recognizing when they do something correct. Sometimes a nudge is all that’s needed.


It takes some extra effort to go from a good EMS leader to an exceptional EMS leader, but the dividends will reap you tremendous rewards.