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EMS World Expo Recap: Leadership Strategies


Two sessions at EMS World Expo 2016, held October 3–7 in New Orleans, LA, provided strategies for current and aspiring leaders to improve themselves and their agencies.

Ray Barishansky presented “Strategies for Survival: Interpreting Sun Tzu for the EMS Leader,” and Jason Clark, Kristopher Thompson and Robert Girardeau participated in “Leadership Lightning Rounds: Theories of Leadership.”

The presentations offered views of EMS leadership through various leadership theories or historical views such as the Bass Transformational Leadership Theory, emotional intelligence and organizational Culture, and a review of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

While the lectures focused on different leadership theories or tools, several major points were highlighted across the sessions:

1. Know Yourself

“Know yourself and you will win all battles.” —SunTzu

Barishansky highlighted SunTzu’s affirmation that self knowledge is a prerequisite of success and critical before you start leading others. Knowing yourself is more than what we report in our elevator speech, it requires an honest assessment of individual strengths and weaknesses, limitations, reactions to stressful situations or difficult individuals, and an overall awareness of how you work with others. Foreknowledge of the items above allow leaders to address and mitigate any difficulties prior to being placed in a stressful situation. Consider performing a personal SWOT analysis and review it regularly as you grow as a leader.

Girardeau discussed emotional intelligence (EQ) to reach similar results. EQ distinguishes a manager from a leader as it requires an individual to monitor their feelings and emotions and use them purposefully to guide thinking and then actions. He also reported that only 40% of the adult population understand their emotions at any given time, leading listeners to believe this is a severely underutilized leadership tool. Girardeau noted that EQ can be used by some leaders for nefarious manipulation of others and acknowledged this dark side of EQ, following with the need for ethics by leadership as well.

2. Know Your People

Knowing your people is integral to knowing your agency, as people make agency culture successful. Clark advised agency culture can be altered and improved with a few tools: hire people with matching values, train those that learn, transition those who don’t accept change and promote those who walk the walk. Clark also highlighted generational differences between baby boomers, Generation X and millennials—what motivates them, how they react to authority and how to use these mindsets for better communication, both in regard to management to employee and employee to employee for the benefit of the agency.

Another function of EQ is the ability to recognize and use employees’ emotions to assist management technique to guide individual employees and the agency as a whole. Utilizing EQ includes active listening, empathy, self-awareness, understanding emotional motivation in others, being action oriented but not reactive to situations, being humble and being honest about not having all the answers.

3. Know Your Challenges and Enemies

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” —SunTzu

Perhaps the most misunderstood quote by SunTzu, he advised leaders to not ostracize their enemies, but pull them closer, learning their plans and sating them, thereby having the potential to disrupt their goals. A key part of keeping your professional enemies close is defining who your enemies may be and recognizing them in the threat section of your agency SWOT analysis. Examples of possible EMS enemies are other EMS agencies, fire departments or the nursing industry related to MIH. Barishansky also gave some advice based on a hard-learned lesson: When you make someone look bad in public (even if you are in the right), you look bad as well; learn when pressing the issue is necessary and when it can harm your reputation. You are only one disaster away from a public relations nightmare.

4. Know Your Agency (and make sure others know, too)

Clark suggests displaying your mission statement and values on the wall at your agency. This inspires all members of the agency to practice these values—particularly management—thereby developing the agency culture. Leadership can develop a vision, share values, beliefs and expected behaviors, but leadership demonstration of practicing the above creates an atmosphere of authenticity and room for all members of the agency to join in. This culture extends to relationships with patients, customers, other members, outside agencies and so on. He cautioned that there can be obstructions to success or cultural barriers such as resistance to change, lack of executive consensus, unrealistic expectations, internal competitions breaking the “team” down, lack of accountability and communication barriers.

Accurately knowing your agency also ties into knowing your people and knowing your enemies or threats. Have you completed or reviewed your agency SWOT analysis to find out agency strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? Depending on individuals and agency culture, your people can be both strength and a weakness. Operational realities such as environment, length of shift, social issues in the community, and personal and professional pressures all impact members of the agency varying their reactions, whether positive or negative. Knowing your agency’s enemies and their prospective opportunities can help a leader understand current and future threats to the agency and what strategy may work best to mitigate them.

5. Connect With Your People

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons and they will follow you into the deepest valley.” —SunTzu

Inspiration is “easy” in EMS. Providers are motivated by the mission—“So others may live”—but connecting with your people and integrating them into agency culture requires more than a slogan. Clark suggests allowing crews to run the organization and leaders to provide the resources. For example, people write the protocols and pick the equipment they use via focus groups.

Thompson stated staff can help you solve problems, if they know about them, and encourages agency leadership to be open and honest with staff. He also discussed supporting people in their own agency initiatives, empowering them as individuals, and using mentoring to bridge from transactional leadership to transformational leadership.

Barishansky discussed leaders doing little things on a regular basis for staff to let them know you care, even if the pace at the agency is fast and there isn’t a lot of time for verbal communication. He also tied in leaders “walking the walk” and demonstrating commitment to agency by not violating policy or other norms with the reason, “I’m the boss, that’s why.” Clark echoed putting a personal touch on gratitude for staff and suggests using a handwritten note, or personal comment to demonstrate appreciation.

Next year's EMS World Expo is scheduled for October 16–20 in Las Vegas, NV. See

Amy Eisenhauer is a dynamic presenter at EMS conferences nationwide, raising awareness on topics such as provider suicide, response to hoarding events and career development for EMS professionals. As a certified Emergency Medical Technician, she has served the New Jersey Emergency Medical Services community as a volunteer and career provider since 1995. In addition to providing high quality medical care, Amy has taken on challenging roles as an EMS educator and training officer. Amy also hosts an interactive blog on EMS at, committed to improving the EMS community as a whole.


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