Demonstrating leadership I say, “I’m in charge and I want you all to tell me ‘No!’ or shut up.”
In a recent rescue class I was put in a number of situations where a number of different rescue techniques would have all worked more or less equally well in a given situation. Identified as a fire officer, I was repeatedly put in charge of the group as the “boss”. Not working under the illusion that I have all the answers, I certainly wanted input and the expertise from my team. Of course, but what I didn’t want was just a rolling list of the alternatives to the way that I had begun to lay out our rescue. At some point we had to complete the scenario.
The technique I used was to have my team pick a tool or technique to overcome one of the obstacles in the scenario. I would then ask, “Is there any reason to not do this?”
This focused the brainpower and expertise of the entire team on identifying any safety or critical deficiency issues with the method that we had selected. After a moment, if someone came up with a reason not to use that tool or technique, then we would modify our plan accordingly. If there was no reason to not do that, as “boss” I would declare “do that” and we would move onto the next obstacle.
In this way I was able to focus the group on the critical questions at hand that we needed to answer quickly and efficiently. We managed to avoid the round-and-round “What do you think?” mentality. We’re not running this rescue by committee, yet we were still able to rely on team safety checks, not just the best guess by one person.
I’m fortunate enough to work regularly with some highly qualified individuals. As an officer it would be foolish of me to assume their roles as only the “hands” and my role always as the “brain”.
I use a similar approach as a paramedic on EMS calls. It gives us the benefit of decision-making without losing focus on who is in charge and who has to give the order that will be carried out.
Of course, there are situations where people may give you a reason to do something, something that they think is important and with which you would disagree. Sometimes, for team dynamics and crew resource management, it’s important to give their ideas a try. You don’t want your team to think you’re asking – and not really listening when they give you an answer.
On the other hand, no team can operate effectively without a solid leader. Make sure that it’s clear that it’s their responsibility to give that input, but it’s your responsibility to make the decision. After all, that’s why you’re wearing the bugles.
Back at the station over a hot cup of coffee there will be plenty of time to bounce around ideas of woulda, shoulda, coulda. but on an emergency scene, while it’s okay to ask for help, make sure you do it the right way. Then make your decision, – one of my favorite captains would say “make it so!”