Knowing the ‘why’ helps EMS leaders inspire crews

This exercise leads to an understanding of your agency's core values, which helps motivate employees at every level


By Jeff Lucia

If you've ever been the parent of a 4-year-old — or if you’ve ever met a 4-year-old — you know what it's like to be subjected daily to several hundred questions that start with one word: Why?

"Why is there rain?"

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"Why do I have toes?"

"Why do I have to go to bed?"

For the leader of an EMS system, there's a lot of power in asking why. And, the funny thing is the shorter and simpler the question, the more meaningful the answer.

That's the premise behind "Start With Why," a leadership philosophy made popular in a TED Talk by Simon Sinek. The author of Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, Sinek points out that people are more likely to follow leaders and organizations who believe the same things they believe.

At most organizations — and that includes most EMS organizations — every employee or member can tell you what they do and how they do it. But very few, Sinek says, can tell you why they do it.

Why, in this case, relates to motivation, values and belief.

Why? Because we care

If you map what, how, and why, in a series of concentric circles, with why in the center, does your organization define itself starting in the center of circle, or at the outside?

Does it start with why it exists, and why people should care about its mission? Or does it start with what it does, and leave the question of why — the question that reveals values, beliefs and inspiration — unanswered?

The most successful leaders, and the most successful companies, start in the center of the circle, not the outside. Sinek gives the widely recognizable example of Apple.

Apple, he says, believes in doing things differently and challenging the status quo in everything it does. That's the why.

The company does this by making their products beautifully designed and easy to use. That's the how. It makes computers and phones and music players, and now watches. That's the what.

I recently went through this exercise as part of our work with a large hospital-based EMS agency, with the goal of identifying the why.

In that process, we discovered the thing that motivated people the most, regardless of their level in the organizational power structure, was genuine caring — caring about patients, caring about coworkers, and caring about the communities they serve. That caring, by the way, is genuine at this particular organization, which is critical.

Once the organization's leaders realized the incredible power of their why to motivate, they started discovering new opportunities to use it to inspire themselves, their clinicians, their support staff, management and even community leaders. It changed the way they think about themselves, and the way they tell their story.

As a leader, do you start with why? Does your organization?

About the author

Jeff Lucia is a partner at the RedFlash Group, a national communications consulting firm serving the health care and public safety fields. 

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