Every EMS agency has a boss like it: dominating and opinionated, immaculately attired and groomed, with close-cropped hair and an abrupt personality. They are hard to understand and even harder to like. They demand respect and are quick to lash out when angered. They demand obedience because "Lives are at stake!" Sometimes they really are veterans of our nation's military, sometimes they aren't. But what they all have in common is a misinterpretation of what "military leadership" really is. The basic misconception of military leadership is that the military demands absolute, unrelenting subservience to the commands of one's superior, that leadership is best done harshly, and that there is no room for error. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
WHAT IS MILITARY LEADERSHIP?
When new recruits enter the Army, they learn the acronym LDRSHIP. This acronym represents the seven Army values that form the core of a philosophy that applies to every aspect of military life. As a soldier moves up in rank and responsibility, these values are reinforced in every class, lecture and field exercise, and the soldier grows beyond just applying them to his own life and learns to apply them as a leader. Army leaders are taught a simple guiding principle that should be part of every leadership decision and action they take: It's all about taking care of soldiers.
Let's look at the LDRSHIP values.
Military loyalty is to your unit, your superiors, your country and the Constitution. In EMS your loyalty should be to your partner, your fellow crews, your supervisor and your service. But what constitutes loyalty? Loyalty is not blind subservience, and it doesn't mean you can't think on your own. It means you take some ownership of the people and things around you and that you work to support them in their efforts. When they are right, you get behind them and defend them, and when they are wrong, you still get behind them and work to make things better.
Loyalty has to be built. Do you know the names of your partner's children and spouse? Are you someone your partner can talk to if they're stressed out about a rough call or problem in their personal life? Do you stand up for your partner when someone accuses them of being rude when you know they're under a lot of pressure at home? When you, as a leader, become involved in the lives of the people you lead, you identify with them, and they become more than just names. Employees in turn begin to understand that you value them, and they develop strong ties to you. Performance becomes tied to a desire to do well because they want you to be proud of them, rather than so they don't get in trouble. When problems do occur, they are easier to address when the employee knows you aren't just there to attack them.
On the other side of the coin, leaders need to remember that a crew member who comes to you with a legitimate question about a decision you made is not necessarily being disloyal, and you should take the time to clear the matter up. You have to know your crew members and what makes them tick, and they have to know that your goal as a leader is to help them be the best they can be.
Remember our school discussions about our "duty to act"? A leader in EMS has a duty to uphold in the provision of patient care and to their subordinates. Do you communicate your administration's directives clearly? Do you evaluate your subordinates in a fair manner and give them counsel and criticism when necessary? Leaders serve in positions where they are trusted with information, policy enforcement and decision making. Your duty is to balance all of these and be the person in the middle on whom both the administration and crew member can count.
This is a key one that is too often forgotten. The leader who fails at this is often one who misunderstands military leadership (and helps to foster the myths about it). If you are a leader, you have to recognize the abilities, education and experience each of your subordinates brings to the table.