Leadership That Matters, Part 14

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.

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