Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #22 Get out of the way

A nugget of EMS organizational wisdom every day.#22 Get out of the way

Last Saturday, my daughter Emma got hit by a soccer ball booted by a teammate during practice. It’s okay. She wasn’t hurt. However, it was a reminder that she had violated the #1 Rule of Tobogganing and the #22 Rule of EMS: Get out of the way.

As an EMS Director learning to get out of the way was a tough lesson for me.

Oh, I understood the theory of delegating responsibility. After all, I had gone to grad school to learn about the management side of emergency health services systems. The problem was that I kept forgetting that once the task was delegated, it was my role to step back to ensure it was successfully completed by the person or people responsible.

I was great at delegating.

I sucked at allowing people the luxury of actually completing the task assigned. In those early days I would infamously hand over the reigns to a member of the team and then wait until he or she was closing on the goal – and then take the reigns back.

A few things happened.

No one wanted to take on additional responsibilities because there was no possible ‘win’ in the equation. They knew I would end up cutting them off at the knees just as they were getting close to actually fulfilling their assigned role.

Morale went into a CTD [Circling The Drain] mode.

We were constantly engaged in trying to overcome the same challenges because of my insistence at being involved in everything and not allowing individuals to find the space required to grow on a personal, professional or organizational level.

And then one of our officers, Evan Savelson, came to see me and explained, politely, that if I would get out of the way once I had delegated an action or responsibility while still providing an enabling environment, we could all work together to address the myriad of important issues facing the organization.

I was back on the toboggan hill of my youth. The cardinal rule then was after you completed your death-defying screaming descent [we were all Evel Knievel on ice], you picked up your sled and got out of the way so the next kid could complete his/her run in all its glory without worrying about slamming into someone else at the foot of the hill.

I took Evan’s words to heart. I learned to have faith in the passion, dedication, vision and wisdom of the members of our team. I was constantly blown away by the creative and innovative solutions that were crafted to overcome problems that threatened to overwhelm our organization.

From Danny Raie’s brilliant use of a standard light switch to serve as the temporary siren switch when one of our rigs’ electrical systems decided to selectively malfunction. I loved that when you flipped the switch this great big old Federal Q siren would crank up. It wasn’t pretty but it got the job done – and that’s what we needed.

[Editor’s note: And as it turns out, while Danny Raie was instrumental in bringing many great things to CSL EMS, the light switch in 833 wasn’t one of them… that innovative re-purposing of household hardware came from the fertile mind of John R. Levac who reminds me that while, in retrospect I may love the concept, back then I was a bit less forthcoming in my praise.]

To Bruno Saint-Onge conducting down-and-dirty rapid recognition courses for our medics – explaining the critical differences between utility wires, low-, medium-, and high-tension electrical lines during the 1998 Ice Storm. With utility services completely overwhelmed, our crews were encountering lines down everywhere while trying to get through to emergency calls. Bruno’s Everything You Need To Know To Avoid Death By Electrocution primer has remained with me to this day.

It’s funny. My official title was Director. Thanks to Evan, I assumed a role and title that was much more meaningful to me – and to the organization: Head Coach.

There are many more stories and I’m certain you have more of your own. Please feel free to share how Getting Out Of The Way allowed your team to flourish.

Be well. Practice big medicine.



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