Today’s EMS Dashboard Confessional is another tale of the unofficial power dynamic, and the difficulties of being a newer leader facing established power structures:
“I was a new supervisor, but an experienced paramedic, and I was working with a senior paramedic who was very influential within the department. The paramedic was known for being aggressive and gruff to others but ultimately provided effective clinical skills to his patients. The shift went much better than I expected until a 911 call came in at the end of the shift. I observed him becoming more irrational about potentially getting out late over the next few minutes. His driving to the scene, introduction to other public safety personnel on scene, and ultimately his interaction with the patient and family was less than desirable. I decided to intervene and take over the scene and defuse the clinical issues and interpersonal dynamic, knowing full well the tough road that laid in front of me executing that decision.
In the moment I remember being shocked thinking maybe he’s burnt out and needs help, or maybe he’s just a jerk. Either way, if this was his best behavior riding along with a supervisor, he’s a risk to our patients and our service. I may not be supported by others but I’ll be able to sleep at night knowing I didn’t allow him to inappropriately interact.
Ultimately, it was tough after. I was judged for confronting someone so senior considering I was so new. I ended up staying for a little over a year, but moved to a different organization that was more of a match to my standards. I always look fondly on the that first leadership job because it taught me so much about what I was willing to tolerate in this extremely uncontrollable, unsupervised environment called EMS. Standing up for my integrity was important that day and continues as I actively work 30 years later.”
This is a challenging situation, especially for emerging leaders. But even as an experienced leader, we know that these situations are happening every day. Being there and witnessing poor behavior gives the leader an opportunity to address the team member in the moment, or immediately after a situation occurs. This action took courage and I applaud the writer for not compromising their values. Giving feedback to correct behavior is an essential leadership skill. The challenge is in the next step – coaching team members to avoid having them act this way in the first place. Setting expectations for behavior is one of the first places I’d start. This gives the leader the opportunity to give specific feedback in the event this is an ongoing behavior issue for a specific team member.
The larger issue becomes the corporate culture of this organization that permits and enables this type of behavior, and in fact appears to have encouraged it when this leader was judged, rather than supported. The message here is that seniority was valued more than relationships with colleagues and patients. The quote that comes to mind is “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept” by Lt. Gen. David Morrison. I won’t comment on the circumstances that might have created this culture, but I can’t help but wonder what this individual is doing right now, and how successful has this EMS organization been. It’s no surprise that a leader who aspires to be more would choose to seek out another organization that could allow them to be progressive and conscientious.