Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Home > Topics > Paramedic Chief
August 20, 2014
All Articles

Ruminations
by John Becknell

How to define leadership in EMS

The term leadership gets thrown around a lot these days, but what does it really mean in the EMS industry?

By John Becknell

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 edition of Best Practices In Emergency Services as "Some Clarity About Leadership Development." 

Last month I wrote about a smart and talented young EMS supervisor named Jason who has little interest in leadership. He sees little he wants to emulate in the bosses running his agency and the so-called leaders at the forefront of the industry. I concluded that we need to do a better job of guiding a new generation of young people into leadership. Getting clear about what leadership is — and is not —and reflecting on our own leadership may illuminate some needed changes. 

The term leadership gets thrown around a lot these days. From NEMSMA to NAEMT, IAFC,  NASEMSO and the AAA, there is much talk about the need for leadership development in EMS. But here is where the confusion starts: If you listen closely, there is wide variation in what’s being talked about.

8 questions to help define leadership

Some are talking about the knowledge and skills needed to manage an EMS operation such as budgeting, deployment strategies and human resource management. Some are talking about mastering a set of officer competencies. Others are talking about creating a ladder where field providers can move from the field to supervision to management and so on. But there is little clarity about what leadership is — and, consequently, little clarity about how to develop leadership in others. 

To stir the pot around this topic, consider the following questions:

  • Does calling someone a leader make them a leader?
  • Can someone manage an EMS agency without providing leadership?
  • Does the title of director, administrator, manager, supervisor, executive or chief guarantee leadership?
  • Are most EMS agencies truly led or simply managed?
  • Is your state EMS director providing leadership of EMS in your state?
  • Are the people tasked with leading EMS in the federal government exercising leadership?
  • Is the head of your association actually leading the members somewhere?
  • Is that charismatic speaker at the national conference a model of leadership? 

Many are called leaders, but there is often a wide gap between the title and the actual practice of leadership. 

Leadership at its core

The need for leadership shows up when there is a need for a group of people to collectively move toward a goal or destination. The acute need for leadership is often most visible in crisis.

But the need for leadership shows up daily when something impacting a group needs group action to change, be different, be improved, be created or be stopped. Leadership then is a process of identifying a goal or destination coupled with a process of influencing others to action toward the achievement of the goal or destination. At its most basic level, leadership is about seeing ahead; it’s also about social influence. 

Most of us would agree that EMS would benefit from having more people who actually see ahead, describe a compelling vision of the future and inspire others to put their best efforts toward achieving that vision.

We especially need leadership that is not self-serving and has more than a personal career at its center. We need leadership that serves the basic missions of the organizations and groups being led and leadership that is benevolent and fully engaging to followers. 

The development of leadership requires learning, but it also requires modeling and mentoring — which means those of us who would develop leaders need to reflect on how we personally show up as leaders. 

So I end this with some personal questions. If a young EMS millennial came to you wanting to learn more about leadership, could you adequately define leadership for him or her? Could you help them clearly distinguish leadership from management? Is your own practice of leadership a model worthy of followership? If you were to mentor someone in leadership, could you point to your own successes in influencing others toward a destination? 

In answering these questions we will discover how we might better lead a new generation into a positive and compelling view of leadership. 

About the author

John Becknell has been involved in emergency services and healthcare for 35 years and has worked as a paramedic, educator, manager, systems developer and consultant. He is the founding publisher of Best Practices in Emergency Services and the former editor-in-chief of The Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS). He serves on numerous national projects and provided the conceptual design for the National EMS Workforce Agenda for the Future (2009). John has been involved in emergency medical system development in North America, the Middle East, and Central America. He is the author of two books and has published articles in numerous journals and trade magazines on emergency services administration, management, and workforce.
Comments
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EMS1.com or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Thom Swan Thom Swan Saturday, September 27, 2014 3:50:29 PM - Does calling someone a leader make them a leader? Of course not. - Can someone manage an EMS agency without providing leadership? Yes - many do. I'm saying they manage their agencies well, but they manage to keep them afloat. - Does the title of director, administrator, manager, supervisor, executive or chief guarantee leadership? No more so that the title "paramedic" guarantees competence in the streets. - Are most EMS agencies truly led or simply managed? Since I'm not acquainted the the majority of EMS agencies, I can't offer a valid opinion. I can, however, suggest you ask the "good ol' boys" who claim to be "leaders". - Is your state EMS director providing leadership of EMS in your state? Bureaucrats are rarely leaders - it's rare for politicians to appoint people to office who may be more effective than the politicians who appoint them. Their egos won't permit it. - Are the people tasked with leading EMS in the federal government exercising leadership? Who ARE those people? Since there is no single federal agency responsible for oversight of EMS and no single federal agency that has made any significant progress in supporting EMS, I would think the answer to that one is obvious. - Is the head of your association actually leading the members somewhere? Actually, yeah. That would be our medical director and he's done a tremendously good job of leading our association into territory not previously explored by pre-hospital providers. It's a rather unique operation, though. - Is that charismatic speaker at the national conference a model of leadership? Maybe. It depends upon which charismatic speaker you are referencing. In any given group of people (or non-human animals), the leader is the individual who others naturally respect and defer to. In an EMS agency, it's the medic everyone wants as his or her car partner or wants on his or her side in a dispute. It's usually the medic the newbies approach to ask "What would YOU do in this (or that) situation. In obsolete animal behavioral terms, that subject is the "alpha" of the group. It is very unusual for the true leader to be a person with "official authority". S/he is generally a 'subject' of lower status within the group (pack, tribe, &c.). One who wants to be the leader, fights for the 'rights' to be a leader (i.e. for promotion), but rarely can command the respect necessary to exhibit true leadership. The wise manager is one who recognizes the natural leader within an organization and works with that individual to achieve common goals. Very few managers display that degree of wisdom, but those who do tend to be very successful. Those who don't end up feeling as though they are pounding their heads against brick walls.

EMS1 Offers

We Recommend...

Connect with EMS1

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google+

Get the #1 EMS eNewsletter

Fire Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips, columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
Enter Email
See Sample

Online Campus Both

Paramedic Chief Videos