MBWA: EMS leadership and management by walking around

Being present is only one part of MBWA: You also need to ask questions and build rapport

On a frigid January afternoon, the elementary school principal, Jean, stood in the middle of the hall, much like a bridge abutment in a river. As the students flowed around her, she visually inspected each student and, as needed, instructed them to zip up their coats or pull their hats down over their ears.

I shared this anecdote with another principal, Rob, and added that on nearly every visit to my son's school, I saw Jean in a classroom, on the playground, in the hallways or in the bus-loading area. The only place I never saw her was in her office.

Instead she was amongst her pupils and teachers.

"Parents love seeing us in the halls," Rob said. "We get positive comments about that all the time."

Jean and Rob artfully practice one of the best leadership techniques, "management by walking around" (MBWA). If you are a supervisor or leader in your EMS organization, here are a few ways you can practice MBWA:

  • Deliver supplies to stations.
  • Join a crew or company for lunch. Either bring your own, or ask what you can contribute to a community meal.
  • Start ambulance clean-up while a crew drops off a patient. Surprise them by being finished before they return.
  • Participate in a hands-on training session.
  • Observe a run-of-the-mill call. Don't show up just for the most dramatic and chaotic ones.
  • Pitch in with rig check or vehicle washing.

Being present is only one part of MBWA. While you are out and about, ask questions about family, activities outside of work and other interests.

As you build rapport with your employees, ask what equipment, protocols and processes are making positive differences in their day so that MBWA doesn't become a gripe session.

Complaints and suggestions will come out, but they don't need to be the focus of the visit.

Do you practice MBWA? What techniques work well for you? Where are you most likely to find your manager?

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