What EMS Providers Can Learn from Stephen Covey

Author Stephen Covey, whose The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People sold more than 20 million copies, sadly passed away on Monday, July 16.

Like 20 million others, I read Covey’s Habits. I enjoyed it—and read it at a time when I needed to become a highly effective person. I had plans to become a father for the first time, and was also 12 years into my police career and not acting in the most adjusted manner.

For the record, I am not of the belief that Covey’s principles were unique or revolutionary. What they were, however, were well-packaged and -delivered concepts. They were understandable and applicable. For me they were also well timed. For something to work you must be open to it. You must be willing to change.

Many concepts within his writings are worthy of mention. His statements that you are response-able—in control of your responses—and that you should seek first to understand, then to be understood are a few examples of high-yield commonsense practices.

Two Covey concepts that were the most formative for me can also be applied in an EMS career or experience.

First, there are things that you have significant control over and things you have little or no control over. Focusing on the right one makes all the difference. Covey calls this a circle of influence and circle of control.

I was a street cop and basically trying to run the police department from the driver’s seat of unit 105. That simply was not going to happen. I was focusing on a circle of influence (trying to run the department) which I really had minimal say over.

Once I read the 7 Habits book, I realized what I was doing. I quickly determined that my circle of control was really quite simple: me and the calls I handled. When I started focusing on that, I was happier and more adjusted, I liked the job again and I started getting noticed for the good job and attitude change. I was promoted into training (which I never would have been had I not refocused) and found the bigger-picture involvement I wanted.

Focus on what you have control over. This always begins with you. Avoid the victim mentality and blaming. You will find greater success projecting your personal strengths outward than you will trying to crash into a circle you haven’t earned.

The second point is an abundance mentality. Simply stated: There is enough good to go around. Good begets more good. Although you have probably noticed not everyone believes this.

The opposite of the abundance mentality is the scarcity mentality. In this belief, there is not enough good to go around. The perception is that the good you have should be held close and not shared for fear you will lose it to another.

For example, a person joins an EMS agency and works their way to the top of the clinical and social heap. It feels good at the top.

Then a new potential hotshot joins. This person is charismatic and talented. The way you react to this depends on which mentality you subscribe to.

The person with the scarcity mentality is threatened. He starts lining up his allies, pulling more shifts and being the hotshot. It is a battle for the coveted prize—he believes there is only one—organizational popularity and success.

The person with an abundance mentality keeps going they way they would normally go. There is enough room—in fact, a need—for talented people. This person reaches out and welcomes the new hotshot. Offers help. He stays focused on being a good person, good provider and partner, good squad member.

A year later, who do you think will ultimately be more successful? Who will be happier? My bet is on the person with the abundance mentality. (Who, if you note, also used other Covey concepts described above.)

The abundance mentality is less toxic to the organization as well. It could be argued that scarcity-mentality providers send more people packing from volunteer EMS than our recruitment drives bring in.

If you want to know about all of the seven habits, or are looking for the next personal or professional step, I highly recommend Covey’s book. It is simple, readable and valuable.

It helped me.

Dan Limmer, EMT-P, is an EMS provider, police officer, author and conference speaker with more than 30 years' experience in public safety. He is a principal in Limmer Creative, which produces EMS review products for smartphones, tablets and computers.