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U-Turns: What Do You Do When You’re Wrong?

It’s one thing to lead and another to find that people actually follow you. What makes you want to follow some people and not others? I will try to keep these tips practical and useful enough so you can use them as soon as you’ve read them.

What do you do when…you realize you’ve just gotten your whole organization headed in the wrong direction, and the only way to fix it starts with a U-turn?

That ain’t easy. Every leader needs a sense of confidence, or no one would ever be bold enough to lead anybody anywhere. If you’re a leader, your ego is a tool you depend on every day. But you need to keep a constant two-fisted grip on it.

I recently watched someone whom I regard as an awesome leader stand up in front of his people and tell them he’d made the wrong decision about something that affected them all. He told them his decision had been the best thing he could think of at the time, but because it wasn’t working, he needed their help to come up with a better one. And that’s exactly what they gave him.

I’m sure it took a ton of courage for him to do that, but by doing so, he earned the profound respect of his crews. In retrospect, that’s not surprising.

Patients don’t have to be perfect. When they crap on our shoes, call us bad names or throw up in our ambulances, they’re not perfect. When a crew makes a mistake, they’re not perfect. Well, our leaders don’t have to be perfect, either. The only ones we won’t follow around a corner (if we’re smart) are the clueless ones, the dishonest ones and the ones who clearly don’t give a damn about us.

There’s great power in humility. Think about some of the names that are instantly recognized in every culture: Gandhi, the Buddha, Einstein, Jesus, Sitting Bull and Mother Teresa each had a powerful impact on history. Yet, by every account, they were all very humble people. By contrast, Hitler, Patton, Genghis Khan, Stalin, J. Edgar Hoover, Henry VIII and Napoleon were all known for their arrogance. Today, we remember them more as tyrants than as leaders.

Humility is not the same as pretending to be less than you are. That’s phony. Humility is honesty—acknowledging the contributions of those around you, along with your own—and acknowledging your weaknesses. The key is to respect your people, honestly and deeply.

If you don’t respect people, EMSers are the last ones you’ll ever fool. Better find yourself another group—one that doesn’t read people for a living.

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