Leadership Sector: Your First 100 Days

When a U.S. president is elected, their first 100 days is a measure by which they’re practically and symbolically judged. Your first 100 days as an EMS manager is no different. In that time, you’ll set the tone for how you’ll administrate your new department, assert your expectations and establish long-term relationships.

Think back (if you can) to your first day of kindergarten, your first day of high school, your first full-time job. Remember how you examined your new surroundings and met lots of new people.

If you’ve just accepted a new job as an EMS manager in another department, you can probably recall these memories with ease and relate them to your new position. Your new department might be right next door or clear across the country. It doesn’t matter. You’re the new guy/gal, and you’ll no doubt have a range of emotions as you make that first morning drive into work. You’ll be excited by the host of opportunities, but you’ll probably also feel apprehensive and uncertain about what struggles may lie ahead.

These first 100 days are a unique time that you should take full advantage of, and here’s how.

Meet with your staff and as many employees as possible: It’s vital to meet with your staff as soon as possible. Just like when you meet someone for the first time and immediately begin forming an impression of them, your staff will be doing the same. The sooner your staff gets to know you, the sooner they’ll understand your vision for the department. These initial meetings will establish trust and support.

You also need to meet with as many employees as possible Æ’ and listen to them. You can’t sit in an ivory tower and dictate policy without knowing the impact your words have on the street.

Ask them about their backgrounds, education and job responsibilities. Ask them what they like about the organization, what works well and what they would change if they could. Some of their suggestions will be easy to accept; others will be difficult. If you can’t do it, be honest and let them know. Your candor will help continue building trust and support.

Be respectful of previous managers: During the one-on-one meetings with your staff, you’ll inevitably hear some ugly things about the previous manager. Regardless of your opinion, be careful to not “cheerlead” or join in the bashing. Finger-pointing and placing blame on a previous manager is unprofessional and shows a lack of character. Remember, you’ll also be the “old boss” one day, and you wouldn’t appreciate a new manager speaking ill of you.

Don’t jump to conclusions: You’ll hear lots of judgments, thoughts and comments in your first 100 days, but remember that everyone has their own take on any issue. You should gather all the facts before deciding how to act. Unlike an emergency scene where you may need to make a split-second decision, the office environment often gives you the luxury of discretionary time, and sudden decisions are rarely necessary.

Avoid saying, “When I was at …”: Before I came to Memphis, I worked in St. Louis and Jefferson County, Mo., for 25 years, so I’m guilty of this one myself sometimes. When faced with the same situation as already experienced, it’s human nature to refer back to our past for possible answers. Although replicating what you did in a previous department may prove useful, the bottom line is that each EMS agency is unique, and your new staff likely won’t want to hear how you did XYZ at your old department. Draw on your experiences, but be thoughtful about how you present them.

Listen: It’s tough to hear others when you’re talking. Each EMS agency has its own history, stories and culture. In your first 100 days, remember that the organization is not trying to assimilate to you, but rather that you’re trying to assimilate into the organization. Observe your new department’s traditions, making note of the important facts Æ’ the good, the bad and even the nasty Æ’ for future reference.

One hundred days is only slightly more than three months, but this period will predict the measure of your success at your new EMS agency. Your approach and what you do during your first 100 days will be the benchmark by which your staff decides to follow your policies Æ’ enthusiastically or begrudgingly.

Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (Tenn.) Fire Department. He has 29 years’ experience and previously served 25 years with the city of St. Louis, retiring as the chief paramedic from the St. Louis Fire Department. He is vice chair of the EMS Section for the International Association of Fire Chiefs and can be reached online at”žwww.garyludwig.com.

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