Cultivating leadership

On and off-the-record training to teach new leaders how to achieve change, and that in some cases, failure is “OK”


EMS graduates can climb the career ladder quickly, arriving in leadership positions with minimal life or professional experience, and even less management training. Supervision is as different from clinical medicine as auto repair is from plumbing. Even a smart, motivated individual will need additional skill sets to succeed in the new role.

In this special coverage series, learn how to equip field supervisors with the skills they need to be effective in their roles.

Being a good supervisor means understanding the bigger picture. However, as senior leadership, we often expect the supervisors we hire to immediately get onto the corporate rocket ship (flip that switch, you’re leadership now!) [At the end of this article, download an infographic to help new supervisors find their voice and effect change].

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. This discounts the journey that needs to happen to transition someone into a confident, competent leader. Frontline supervisors are often our most valuable assets – dynamic shapeshifters who can enforce operational policies, but still relate and empathize with the field staff to keep morale high. To keep that balance strong, we need to invest.

I have found that cultivating great leaders is often a multi-step process. There’s an overt training program they should be going through to accomplish any field or administrative polishing they may need in their new role. This builds camaraderie and trust with their peers involved in the training process, but that trust building shouldn’t stop at that level.

"Frontline supervisors are often our most valuable assets – dynamic shapeshifters who can enforce operational policies, but still relate and empathize with the field staff to keep morale high. To keep that balance strong, we need to invest," Snypes writes. (Photo/Derek O. Hanley)

The secondary training happens off the record. It’s your invisible check-in schedule with your new leaders. It’s the drop-in meetings to ask how it’s going, or the phone calls after you’ve noticed they were held over, or processed their first MCI or ambulance accident. Finally, it’s the ongoing meetings with leadership that lets them know that you’re paying attention, you care, and they can feel safe reaching out to you.

As for day-to-day operations, everything is up for discussion at my location. The most cringe-worthy phrase to hear during a strategy session is when someone says, “we’ve always done it this way,” or when someone talks over someone else to silence an idea. EMS is in its infancy if you ask me, and everything should be flexible to meet the evolving needs of our profession. As a young leader myself, I’m here to tell you that the Millennial wave is coming, and I promise, we make great leaders. It’s not as scary as you might think.

That being said, I find that a wide variety of backgrounds in a leadership group leads to success. Sometimes, we do need someone to stand up and convince us that tradition is the best option, and sometimes we need someone to suggest a new idea that might make some people uncomfortable. Diverse leadership pulls us together and propels us forward.

Guide new leaders through creating change

My introduction to leadership started when I noticed something that I thought could be improved. I first had an idea at my operation years ago that EMTs should be represented in the education department. We were an all-ALS system (1 paramedic, 1 EMT) at the time, meaning half of our workforce was EMTs, but only paramedics could apply for education positions.

I approached our clinical education director at the time and proposed the idea. She didn’t discourage me, but did suggest that I draft a proposal for the chief operating officer to review. I spent two weeks milling it over, and it ultimately wound up on the COO’s desk. He said no. 

I was endlessly frustrated, but because of the relationship he had built with his team, I felt that I could be persistent. After several rounds of research, reworking and justification, I presented a new job classification that was accepted. Six months after the initial proposal, I was able to interview for the job I created and started working as the first EMT clinical captain. Five years later, not only can EMTs work in the education department, but our 911 system in Alameda County is almost 25% BLS (dual EMT) ambulances now.

An inexperienced supervisor might want to jump in to make an immediate impact with an idea that might only make a small amount of sense, but it’s up to us to guide them through that process. If they raise their hand with a suggestion, utilize them to see it through. They’ve already established they have buy-in, and it also gives them the opportunity to dip their toe into project management on a smaller scale. If you’re uncertain the initiative will succeed, entertain the idea of being OK with allowing that supervisor to fail. In a controlled, low-stakes environment, failure is just as successful at teaching a lesson.

Fill out the form below to download an informative infographic for new supervisors to propose and achieve change and progress.

Read more about Carolina Snypes

Read more about Carolina Snypes

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