Why EMS leaders need to be honest and genuine

Leaders that have lied their way to the top eventually are toppled; stop the lies and take responsibility for your words

By Ray Barishansky

We have all heard, or read about, the fall from grace experienced by NBC News anchor Brian Williams. But this is not new news – time and again we have seen or heard of those who lied and been found out.  

EMS providers are not immune to lying in the workplace and getting positions based on these less-than-truths. We have some in our field who have lied on their resumes about education and accomplishments, including falsifications about certifications, awards and employers.

In my years in EMS, I have seen, and heard of, many aspiring supervisors and managers who are in a hurry to move up the ladder. Considering that this is a young field and competition for management positions can be fierce, it is easy to see the temptation to stretch the truth on a resume to get a leg up on the other applicants, creating an advantage where one may not have existed. Some people are willing to play the odds that a background check will miss something.  

As EMS leaders, we serve the public trust and hold ourselves to a certain standard. Or at least we should.  

Our credibility is at stake

We owe it to the public, our employees and ourselves to understand that we need to be more credible than almost anyone else out there. Just like Williams needed viewers to believe in him, EMS leaders need the public, elected officials and their staff to believe in them. Credibility is fragile and EMS leaders can have theirs called into question at any time.  

Don’t let the lie(s) continue  

If you have lied and not been caught, it is only a matter of time before you will get caught. Own up sooner rather than later. There may be damage, but the damage now from disclosure and honesty will be less than being caught in a lie.  

Be honest and genuine

You don’t have to be the rock star. An EMS leader needs to be informed, methodical, thoughtful and trustworthy.  

You don’t have to be the person who has been on every tough call or earned every award the system has to offer. Instead be the person other people will respect and listen to. Do not get caught up in what you think people need or want to hear.

EMS makes the world very small

We work in a relatively small field. All lies eventually get discovered. Somebody will know somebody who knows somebody who knows you don’t have a PhD and didn’t win an award for paramedic of the year.

Take responsibility

What should you do if you did lie your way to a better position and are at risk of being caught? Take responsibility for your actions, which may even mean leaving your current position.  

Employees, civilians and politicians do not react well to someone placing blame on another individual, group, or system, but they tend to respect strength that comes from shouldering responsibility for one’s actions. Situations like this — and very often they are vastly more severe — happen to leaders at every level. The critical part is what you do after the mistake. Williams offered apologies, retractions and corrections as opposed to a real explanation to those who trusted him.   

About the Author

Raphael M. Barishansky, MPH, MS, CPM is the Director of the Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) at the Connecticut Department of Public Health. He has a Master of Public Health degree from New York Medical College and a Master of Science in Homeland Security Studies from Long Island University. He has also earned a Certified Public Manager (CPM) certification through Arizona State University. He is a regular contributor to EMS and homeland security publications, as well as a frequent speaker at regional, state and national EMS and Public Health conferences.  

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