Administration and Leadership, Columns

Mentor Employees of All Levels to Benefit the Organization

Issue 10 and Volume 40.

If you’re a leader in your EMS organization, who are you mentoring? I’m not asking who you like and tell what’s going on inside the organization, or who you’d like to see move up in rank because of your relationship. No, I’m asking: Who are you truly mentoring?

Have you evaluated those underneath you and started preparing them for a leadership role? Or are you mentoring everyone at every opportunity you get?

BETTERING PEERS

A lot of people think mentoring is about preparing someone to be your successor, but that’s not true. Mentoring isn’t only about someone succeeding you when you leave, but also preparing someone who may be three of four ranks below you to advance to the next level. It’s also about making one of your subordinates better in their current position, whether they move up to the next rank or not.

A lot of successful people have been mentored by other successful people. Socrates was a mentor to Plato, and Plato was a mentor to Aristotle. Warren Buffet was mentored by renowned American economist and professional investor Benjamin Graham. Bill Gates was mentored by Ed Roberts and Steve Jobs, and the founder of Apple says he was mentored by Andy Grove—a science pioneer in the semiconductor industry. Peter Drucker, a best-selling author of management books, says his best advice came from his first editor-in-chief, who told him: “Get good or get out.”

Nobody, even successful and famous people, has truly succeeded by themselves. Somebody, somewhere in their career gave them advice and helped them go to another level.

MENTEE TO MENTOR

I’ve been blessed with three mentors who’ve helped me advance in my career: Chief Richard Davis, Chief Neil Svetanics and Chief Richard Arwood. None of their mentoring was formal. They didn’t sit me down and tell me they were going to mentor me. Instead, they took an interest in me and provided sage advice. They made themselves available whenever I wanted to ask a question. Sometimes it was just sitting and talking about some situation and why they made the decisions they did—whether it was an administrative decision or an emergency scene—what their options were and how they weighed those options and decided the best course of action.

I’ve also had some people who were my mentors but they didn’t know it. I watched them over the years try to manage, but they were inept and incompetent. They didn’t know the difference between leadership and management. They didn’t know that you manage things like budgets, fleets, payroll and inventory, and you lead people. They taught me plenty—plenty of what not to do. Their decisions impacted morale, operations and the overall function of the organization.

Nobody, even successful & famous people, has truly succeeded by themselves.

I’ve tried to give back over the years while in St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn., and now Champaign, Ill., by mentoring others. I’ve learned to transition from using personal feelings of whom I liked to choose whom I mentored and instead saw it as my responsibility as a leader to make sure everyone succeeds.

I now mentor the chiefs and company officers in the Champaign Fire Department in both an informal and formal way. My formal mentoring includes meeting once every six weeks with all the chiefs and company officers to discuss leadership issues, go through a problem-solving case management scenario that happened in another department, or review past adverse events I’ve experienced so they aren’t repeated in Champaign. Sometimes, we’ll do an incident command system tabletop exercise on some potential serious event such as an Amtrak train crash with over 50 victims, or maybe even recreate an event in our community to learn where there are opportunities to improve.

CONCLUSION

There are myriad mentoring and learning opportunities. I even consider that I might learn something from the process with the goal of improving my skills.

I’ll always be grateful for those who imparted their wisdom on me. If you’re in a leadership position and have the opportunity to mentor your staff, don’t pass up the chance. Besides preparing them for future positions, your employees will perform better in their current positions because they’re better trained in leadership skills.