I live in a world where someone getting seventy stitches from doing something stupid provokes a smirk rather than horror. And so I grieve the loss of a month old flying squirrel with a struggle, as I waver from stoicism to heartache, wondering how, in the course of a week, I could possibly become so attached to something who was not of this world to begin with.
The answer to the question is that we can recognize our emotional state and we can work with it, but we can't just wish it away. Our emotional state is subject to our reaction, both psychological and physiological. What we can do, however, is recognize when these instances occur and address them in advance of a repeat performance.
Capt. Tom at EMS12Lead.com was reading yesterday and tweeted a link to an old blog he once started called The Scene Size-Up Blog. I'm sure you have all heard someone arriving on a scene and transmitting their size-up, and you can tell their emotions are getting the better of them. One of the ways he suggested for overcoming this adrenal state (the "fight or flight" syndrome we know from earlier) during that period was to practice stress-tempered communication skills. The trick is to "identify the expected performance, simulate the stressful stimulus, and repeat the desired behavior over and over again until it becomes second-nature". This is exactly how we should be taking an approach to training as well.
Jeff Johnson wrote an article in Firehouse last summer that discussed recognition-primed decision making. Again, this is a means of educating ourselves in how to perform effectively on an incident using experience gained through the job or through training, but it is entirely useful to use such training to also help control your emotional state, by reminding yourself of previous similar events and how they played out, and using the lessons learned from those events to direct a positive outcome on the situation at hand.
This can go even farther in understanding that you may be surrounded by others who have been in similar circumstances, or have technical experience that permits a better perspective on the issues. Like when I was speaking about crew resource management before, this is a perfect situation where if someone on the team has been through the event before, they may understand it for what it is and be able to suggest a better way of handling things.
None of this, however, addresses the adrenaline surge that some of our colleagues achieve that cause them to drive recklessly, to charge into untenable situations, or to make poor decisions by "shooting from the hip". In my observation, a certain amount of that goes away as a responder becomes more mature, spends more time dealing with the same situations, or becomes cognizant of the feelings but knows how to curb them. There are those who it seems though, never outgrow it.
As a chief officer, when I see this kind of behavior, knowing how it can affect the entire mission, I get on it early and reinforce what I expect from those individuals and how I believe they should be acting. When I was a company officer, I certainly didn't permit some of the things I know that others did and all it took was one incident, then others were saying, "You knew so-and-so was trouble behind the wheel; why didn't you say something?" or "You knew he was unsafe but you let him do it anyway, why?"
Our responsibility as leaders requires that if we see someone who is not conducting themselves professionally, regardless of whether it is an emotional reaction or plain old immaturity, that we take action to stop it. That goes for station operations as well as emergency operations, and yet I am constantly disappointed by reading certain events in the news where someone was doing something stupid, and officers were around, but of course, "didn't realize what was going on". No, I would bet that in many cases, they knew what was going on and chose to ignore it. Putting your head in the sand will not make the problem go away.
I have worked with many individuals over the course of my career who have had a range of reactions to bad situations. I have seen people react to situations in a manner that clearly showed emotion was in charge and not logic. In most of those events, if you are allowing that to occur, you lose. A classic example was the Metro-Dade Fire Officer debacle that came out in March 2013. This officer could very well have been right, but it was clear that emotion was in charge and not logic. I don't know what happened before this event to get the officer so upset. But watching the video alone, it doesn't seem like the fire officer was making a good decision to engage this guy. I'm not going to say people haven't pissed me off before, but looking back on it now, and watching this video, I realize how bad it really could have been, and I am glad it wasn't me in that MDFR officer's shoes. The intelligent thing to do would be to step away from the problem for a second and recognize that your rage is not what is needed here, but a clear head is.
Emotion is great for when your child is graduating high school, or your favorite team wins, or you got something you have always wanted. But when the stakes are high and getting it wrong could mean catastrophic outcomes, we must keep our head in the game, pay attention to what is going on, and make the right choices. We can help ourselves in those moments by practicing similar events under stress, by educating ourselves on recognizing events and making good choices, and we can step away from the problem mentally, before we get hurt.
When I say there is no place for emotion on the fireground, I meant it. Save the drama for after shift change.
So while I don't like finishing a series with a cynical side, it is a very important message and if you aren't already sold, this one might do the trick. A while ago, Capt. Tom from EMS12Lead.com and I were having a discussion on customer service as it relates to our own employees (he and I work together at our real jobs, if you didn't know). One of the things he brought up to me, which just reinforced our shared opinion on the subject, was a study relating to attitude and the likelihood of malpractice complaints.
In this recently accessed article from the New York Times, at least two studies at the time (1994) found that doctors perceived as displaying poor bedside manner were more likely to face malpractice lawsuits than those who displayed compassion, empathy, ad respect. Given the number of legal inquiries going on these days, not just in EMS, but in all things relating to emergency response, I thought you might like to know that.
There is no overcoming competence for keeping the lawyers at bay. But given that kind of information, it makes sense to lower the odds of being taken to court. I say this because I know personally, regardless of your competence, if the recipient doesn't perceive that you have their best interests at heart, they don't care how rational your advice or directions are: they aren't going to follow. And indeed, this is the clincher. Customer service doesn't start outside the bay door. It relates to how you work with others as well.
If you are a total ass, nobody wants to work with you. If you can't get along with others, or you seek ways to make other people miserable, you aren't going to fit in well with the team. Attitude has a funny way of seeping into your personal life, regardless of how hard we try to compartmentalize it. If we have a bad attitude at work, we will likely then have a bad attitude at home. Your cynical side, however funny it might seem at times, gets old after a while. You need to know where the switch is and use it.
There's nothing wrong with sarcasm and cynicism in my view. I am as cynical and sarcastic as they get and I have a very dry sense of humor to boot. But there are times when it is appropriate and there are times when it is not. Maturity implies that you know the difference. I'll share with you that for a long time in my career, I didn't know. There are times even still when I kick myself for saying the wrong thing. But the difference is that now that I am aware of it, I can do something consciously about it. How so?
I was working an incident involving law enforcement, a reported hostage situation. Later we found it to be a false call, but that's not the story. We were staged a block back, waiting for the team to make an entry, when I saw "The Look". You know that look; when you are sitting in your vehicle of choice, in my case, a chief's buggy, and you see a civilian who decides they want to talk with you. Usually it's when you least want or need to be talking to a civilian. In any case, they came up to my window and began asking "stupid" questions. "What's going on?" "Can you tell me what house?" You know, that kind of stuff. I was admittedly rude and while I didn't tell them to take a hike, I'm pretty sure they figured it out, because they hustled out of there.
The difference? I realized what I had done. I got out, found them, and apologized. I didn't give them sensitive information, but relayed to them our need to be able to listen to the radio, to be able to think, all that kind of stuff. Turns out this woman was the community property owners association president. With a lot of political buds. Who was so impressed with the explanation that she wrote a letter of appreciation. And even better- she knew nobody was in the house we were about to storm. They were out of town on vacation. We were able to slow down the scene, do some better reconnaissance, nobody got accidentally shot or twisted an ankle or tossed a flashbang into an unoccupied (and very expensive) home.
I admit the need for being Mr. Nice does not always sit well with me; it's not really my minute-to-minute disposition. But it is a tool, just like a halligan, a saw, or a sledge. I use the tool I need for the job at hand. I know how it works and I know when it is appropriate and when it is not. And if you are good at what you do, you know that tool better than anyone else.
I was catching up on my reading and came upon an interesting tidbit. While I have heard it said before, I never really ascribed to the concept that when a leader is cut down, the enemy is unable to function. This was apparently a widely held belief in World War II which led to some surprise when, after cutting down an officer, confusion did not necessarily occur.
On teams where a leader takes a very regimented stance and fails to entrust his or her subordinates with the "keys to the ship", there may very well be some disarray when something happens to that leader. Believing that to be true disregards the power of initiative when the leader falls, which has historically been the very opportunity seized by those who are now considered to be our most treasured heroes. Think of all of the Congressional Medal of Valor winners who have stepped up in the wake of a lost officer. Think about the forces of the FDNY who charged forward when they lost so many of their commanders on 9-11-2001. And you can trace back throughout the story of mankind where this has happened again and again.
It is necessary for not only officers to show leadership, but everyone, all the way to the probie on their first shift. It is important to know that being a leader is contextual. You may not be the ranking officer on your department, but when something goes wrong, you may very well be the one who has to step forward and take action. You may need to be the one who says, "Follow me" and charges ahead. Or you may be the one to coax someone to go be seen by a physician even though it's three in the morning and you don't feel like transporting, but because this individual needs your leadership at that moment, you do it, and it's because it's the right thing to do.
Leading implies by its very nature that you are "in front". And being in front places you in a very vulnerable position. But the vulnerability keeps us honest and causes us, if we really are leaders, to act with diligence and to be restrained when it becomes advantageous, especially for those whom we lead. Leading is mostly give and sometimes take, but mostly give again and again. Leading is serving others.
We have to foster leadership tendencies in our followers and this is best done by our example. Being a "just" leader shows everyone that doing the right things for others has merit, and it hopefully breeds a culture of everyone on the team doing these same things and stepping in if something happens to you, and then even with the same results.
Share your vision with others, especially those on your team, and bring them up to your level. They will in turn lighten your load and someday, hopefully, cause you an enormous amount of pride.
Blame then find out the facts. It’s become the American way. We all get it: reaching for a headline, individuals are indicted in the media, who then are leapt upon by the masses. Time after time, this scenario continues to pop up and with the anonymity of the internet, what used to be bad journalism has become blood sport. Being tried in the media is one thing, but you know, we don’t have to buy into it. No matter how sensational the headline, there is always more to the story.
Lest you think this is some scathing review of my buddy Dave's chosen profession, think again. I am simply using it as a convenient analogy to focus on a leadership issue we are probably all familiar with. This would be the situation in which as officers or leaders, we find a problem, and in our haste to rain shit down on the heads of the offenders, fail to consider there might be a plausible explanation for the "error".
As usual, don't think that I am without blame. Most of the things I write about I have myself engaged in throughout my career. But I use this blog as a means to educate you all on things I have seen and see over thirty years on the job and hopefully, maybe, I can make a difference in your own careers.
So back from the disclaimer, I just want to make sure you understand that being appreciative of all the facts doesn't make you a weak leader. In fact, your judicious use of power strengthens your hand. If you strike a dog too many times, it will eventually turn on you. Likewise, if you are too heavy-handed with the troops, they eventually come to resent you. This can have farther reaching implications than you may ever realize, especially when there is that position you have always wanted and you don't get it because the people you supervise won't support you. But that being said, the real reason for considering all sides before rushing to judgment is because it is a hallmark of "Just Leadership".
I said a while back that Capt. Tom over at EMS12Lead.com pointed me in the direction of the concept of "Just Leadership" as the root of a just organizational culture. Phil LaDuke, who has a blog on the subject, really explains it well and I think this is a subject that a lot of leaders simply don't get. From his blog:
Just leaders share characteristics that set them apart from the pack. These leaders see themselves as leaders first and foremost and they live their lives by a code of conduct that is set not be some artificial external criteria but by their personal values…A just leader is able to clearly articulate his or her values and institutionalize those values into a work culture that is fair and just.
An integral part of just leadership requires an appreciation for the whole story, not just the part you want to hear. Just leaders get to the heart of the matter in a rational, unemotional way and approach the development of solutions via time-honored means, like getting the people involved in the problem to solve the problem. In doing so, they can understand the root cause better and they can learn to "fish for themselves". This is truly transformational leadership.
I highly recommend looking further into each situation deeper before rushing to judgment. At first you may find it to move slower than you choose, but ultimately, you will see that the outcomes are much fairer and better received by all involved, especially when your charges see that you aren't going to go off half-cocked at every challenge that comes along. And even better, the example you set will hopefully be seen and adhered to by others aspiring to lead, and they too will govern in a similar manner. THAT is how we change our organizational culture for the better.
I got to talk to Capt. Tom (EMS12Lead.com) the other day after his return from IAFC's Fire/Rescue Med 2012 Conference. After congratulating him on bringing home our spiffy new 2012 IAFC Heart Safe Community Award, he gave me a recap of the conference and some of the outstanding moments. One speaker he was enthusiastic about was Paul LeSage, author of the book Crew Resource Management: Principles and Practice. Chief LeSage, who retired as an assistant chief from Tualatin Valley, Oregon, is also a publisher, a clinical professor, and has a consulting practice.
Chief LeSage spoke of "Just Leadership", which has a lot of the hallmarks of what we have been discussing here. According to LeSage, the values shared within a "highly reliable emergency medical system" include actively seeking continual improvement and creating a "Just Culture". As Capt. Tom put it, a lot of what Chief LeSage advocates as being a good leadership model starts with eliminating the "blame" culture, instead, creating a culture where errors and mistakes are used constructively to create learning.
These characteristics are right along the same lines as what we are saying is best: leadership should be, to the extent possible, transformational. People should be led, rather than dragged, into understanding how challenges occur within our agency, and instead of beating people up, we should get to the root of the problems and address them, hopefully preventing a future issue. This kind of leadership relies on crew resource management (CRM) and the human factors analysis and classification system (HFACS) models, each of which look toward problem solving as being a cultural issue rather than purely as a performance issue.
Years ago, I was fortunate enough to be a participant in the United States Marine Corps' Total Quality Leadership program where many of W. Edwards Deming's theories on quality control were adopted. While the CRM and HFACS models are different, in that they look toward behavior and communication, I find that there are aspects of quality improvement through the "zero defects" approach that also are quite similar. All three of these models really do look at taking the problems from a scenario and finding ways to solve for them, while putting the emotional side of the situation aside. After all, if problems aren't "blame" and instead are "observations" with clearly defined factors, if we use logic to remove our hurdles, people should respond more constructively. Errors or mistakes are discussed with the intent of solving the problem, and lessons learned can provide excellent lessons for others, hopefully avoiding the same mistakes again.
There is huge requirement, then, to leave your ego at the door. It is hard to admit you were wrong, or that you made an error, especially in cultures where there is an emphasis on competition and hierarchy. CRM says it is okay at crucial moments to question an order. HFACS says that even the smallest mistakes have contributing factors that must be considered in the pursuit of solving them. These are principles that are not fully embraced even to this day in the firehouse. "You mean the Chief made a mistake? Nonsense!"
Take a moment and look over some of the links I have provided, because they give you a little perspective on the next issues we will cover. There is an undercurrent present that you must understand.
- The boss is not always right. Ego needs to take a seat.
- When safety or catastrophic failure is at stake, ANYONE should speak up.
- More eyes on the problem mean more chances of coming up with a successful outcome.
- The vast majority of people who make mistakes don't do so deliberately. What can we change to insure success?
- Our situation requires constant analysis and reaction to the facts.
These are not embraced among your basic "dinosaur" officer. These are, in fact, counter to the authoritative, paternalistic approach to leading that has been said to be correct for most of my lifetime. These issues require a leader to do what is right, to take the best approach (even if it isn't their own approach), and they require the leader to serve others and to educate them.
Our understanding of what moves people to act intuitively and appropriately is evolving as we continue to learn. Hopefully this series is doing just that for you as well.
While Capt. Tom at EMS12Lead.com might not be trumpeting his success, I will do it for him, as well as for the rest of my colleagues at Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue. This week we received another honor, the IAFC's Annual Heart Safe Community Award. With a lot of pushing and pulling from Capt. Tom Bouthillet, and a lot of support and cooperation from other notables, including Fire Chief Lavarn Lucas, Deputy Chiefs Brad Tadlock and Ed Boring, Capt. Eric Lainhart, our medical control docs, Bo Sherwood and Van Gaube, and of course, Kelly Arashin, we received the award in recognition of the system we have in place in our community.
Between our bystander CPR education efforts, placement of automated defibrillators in the community and our advanced life support response system, individuals experiencing a cardiac event have a significantly better chance of survival than in the past. If an arrest is in progress, we dispatch additional Fire/Rescue companies, where all the line personnel are trained in use of the "pit crew" concept, to maximize the efficiency of assigned resources and to deliver a very high standard of care.
It doesn't end there: our Fire/Rescue personnel have a number of tools we can use, including 12-lead EKG monitoring with transmission capability and the ability to provide therapeutic hypothermia if indicated. Our system is also capable of identifying possible STEMI patients in the field and setting off an additional chain of events.
Our delivery of the patient at the Hilton Head Hospital Emergency Department is just one more step. There, they will have already been alerted by the teams in the field and depending on the situation, have either already brought in a cath lab team, or are prepared to continue therapeutic hypothermia through as needed. We have a great relationship with our emergency department personnel and we all work together as a team to provide the best possible chances for a positive outcome.
What's more is that the pertinent information is documented and shared through the CARES Registry, where we will be able to extrapolate data needed to help us improve our service. We have identified methods for communicating good performance as well as performance requiring remediation. And above all, the system is delivered daily by nine Fire/Rescue companies with extremely professional, caring, and knowledgeable personnel, all of whom are aware of the importance of excellent public service.
When we factor this in with our recent CFAI accreditation, which we have maintained through three cycles, we are pretty proud. But even more impressive is that our personnel have maintained their positive attitude and professionalism despite comments made about their integrity by certain individuals in our community, rather than those individuals stepping back and defending what they should have known to be true. Our entire force maintained this very same quiet professionalism even when held to a 1% salary raise last year (and that was not across the board) and no increases in years before that, not because they were afraid to speak out, but because they heard the concern of the community, especially with the economic situation being what it was, and they were willing to accept that and soldier on, when they had every right to be vocal and upset about the situation. These personnel have also maintained their quiet professionalism among other challenges as well, challenges that will remain unsaid by us, because that's the kind of people we have.
One of the primary things we say to guide our people is to always "do the right thing". If that means stopping and helping someone change a tire, or picking you up off the floor for the seventh time that week, or loading up your kids in the rig to take them to the hospital when we are transporting you because you have no family available, we do what it takes to make our "customers" happy. And we say customers because it isn't just the taxpayers; we serve the visitors, the workers, the homeless, anyone we deal with. They may be patients today, or the may be the homeowner on another, or the occupant, but to us, they are people.
We have an extraordinary amount of pride in our department, but a lot of humility as well. I talk about all of our personnel because I am proud of them, but they don't go around bragging about it, so I am happy to tell you all about them. We have very high expectations of our people, but we have fun too. And while there are plenty of bad moments, the good definitely outweigh the bad. The difference is that we try to let everyone in on the decisions (to the extent possible), we listen, we try to get them the tools they need (but they aren't spoiled, our budget didn't budge but a single digit percentage from last year), and we do things safely, with a lot of common sense applied rather than emotion.
So while we will be celebrating this new award, we already realize, it is recognition for what we have done. For us, what we have done so far is never good enough. We will continue to push forward and improve from where we are today, to keep looking at ways we can tweak this or adjust that to make our organization that much better. We do not rest on our laurels.
If you get a chance to come to our Island, make sure you stop by a station. EVERY station and Headquarters is open to the public and we encourage visitors. We will always take the time to show someone the trucks, or to take a blood pressure, or just to talk about what we do. We are an all-hazards response agency who takes the job very seriously and we like sharing what we do. Thanks to all of you at HHIFR; you all make me proud to be affiliated with you.