This month’s EMS Dashboard Confessional comes from a lead paramedic in an EMS-only system.
I was a lead paramedic in an organization but not actually a supervisor with supervisory authority. We were the eyes and ears of management, and could troubleshoot issues on-shift, but we could not “write someone up” when they did something wrong. Our job, when something reached that level, was to document the issue in our shift report.
I had someone on my shift who was constantly late for work. At one point, he was late several times in a row, so I confronted him and told him that I was going to “write him up” for his conduct. What I meant was that I was going to include this in my shift report, but he interpreted it as a threat to discipline on him.
He went to my boss and said that I had exceeded my authority, which I didn’t since I wasn’t giving him a written warning, but after talking to my boss I understood how I sent the wrong message. The thing was that I wanted to change his behavior, and at the time, the only thing I could think to do was threaten him with discipline. What I learned from this is that instead of going immediately to threats to change behavior, I should have looked at what might have been causing him to come in late and how we could find a good solution to the problem. This is especially important considering I didn’t have the actual authority to follow through on my threat!
As moderator of this blog, I think it’s important that we remember we have numerous tools in our leadership toolbox. Coercive power, or threatening, has a time and a place but probably should not be the first thing you reach for. Rather than using fear, we can start with problem-solving, shared vision, and inspiration.
However, it’s just as important to remember that even if you do have to resort to coercive power, consider if this is a hill you want to die on. If you were exceeding your authority for a life-safety issue, or some other mission-critical concern, then risking exceeding your authority has good justification. But it’s hard to go to your boss and explain that you simply HAD to do this because someone kept coming into work late.