Administration and Leadership

Aarron Reinert Presents Holistic Look at EMS Leadership at AAA 2016

Aarron Reinert, NRP, MAOL, presented an inspiring leadership lecture—Lead, Follow or Get out of the Way: A Holistic Look at Leadership, Followership and Allure of the Toxic Leaderat the American Ambulance Association’s 2016 conference in Las Vegas, Nev. He opened by stating that you can recognize a true leader by their ability to influence others toward a destination.

Reinert, who is executive director of Lakes Region EMS in North Branch, Minn., pointed out that at its core, leadership is about the why—the meaning—not the what and the how. He shared a quote from noted leadership author and consultant Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

In EMS, we often only focus on the what and the how. What we do: respond to calls for service; how we do it: things like SMS, unit hour utilization, etc. However, “real leadership comes when we focus on the why of what we do,” Reinert said.

Reinert identified some key leadership theories, stating that he did not necessarily agree with them all, but rather chooses to look at the actions and behaviors of leaders.

The first theory is that some leaders are just born with it. Abraham Lincoln was willing to lead when the battle was over. Adolph Hitler used his speaking ability to influence others. Franklin d. Roosevelt’s fireside chats connected with people on the radio. And Mother Theresa, known for her “servant leadership,” famously said, “If you want to learn about leadership, you must first lead to serve.”

A second leadership theory is that great events allow great leaders to rise to the surface. Reinert also discussed more modern leadership theories, including:

  • Trait theory
  • Skills theory
  • Styles theory
  • Situation theory
  • Contingency theory
  • Transactional theory
  • Transformational theory
  • Servant theory

Reinert said he feels that a better definition of leadership is “the ability to see a destination, inspire people to follow, and often where it crosses over with management, the ability to get things done.” These three abilities rest on a foundation, or toolbox, of many different skills. Three critical skills that he identified as most important were listening, storytelling and imagination.

Reinert also spoke of what he calls “followership,” and noted that for a leader to truly lead, they needed to deeply understand what it means to follow. Often leaders are resistant to follow, but understanding the needs and wants of followers enables leaders to continue to grow and develop.

People are often attracted to toxic leaders, and Reinert defined toxic leadership in several ways, including “maladjusted, malcontent and often malevolent and malicious people.” He asked the audience, “Why do people follow them?” Some reasons included:

  • These leaders are charismatic
  • They have grand visions
  • They want and need us
  • They make us feel safe, special and part of something great 
  • They connect with deep emotions within us

The challenge Reinert posed for EMS leaders is to recognize the gray area between the characteristics that draw people to toxic leaders and the characteristics that draw people to great leaders. Often the actions and behaviors are similar between a toxic leader and a great leader. For example, they both have grand visions. But Great leaders need to ensure they use the power and authority given to them or earned by them carefully, and always be watchful of actions and behaviors that could be toxic.

About Aarron Reinert

Aarron Reinert, NRP, MAOL, is an EMS leader, master teacher and expert in management, leadership, system design and applied best practices in EMS. He has been involved in EMS for more than 25 years and is the executive director of an emergency medical service in central Minnesota. He is well known for asking tough questions and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking. Using tools such as the balanced scorecard, Reinert helps organizations recognize the necessary balance between finance, customer service, employee satisfaction and community awareness. Reinert’s recognized understanding of current emergency services issues led to him serving on numerous national boards and projects and to an appointment as chairperson of the National EMS Advisory Council by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.