Leadership Lessons from EMTs

by | Sep 8, 2015

By the time I arrived, she was groggy, clammy and complaining of chest pains. The emergency management technicians (EMTs) drove up to my mother’s house in spite of me giving them the wrong address. Red lights reflected off the windows as they pulled into the driveway. Later that night we learned that she had a mild heart attack from which she recovered within a few days, thanks to expert care.

As I reflect back on the events of that evening, I’m struck by the EMTs’ ability to meld a logical, data-driven process with careful listening, collaboration, and full attention. We can learn from their approach for our business dealings.

First, let’s look at the logical, data-driving process they employed.

Context and careful listening. Two young men with pounds of equipment walked into my mother’s house. “Tell us what happened,” they said. We explained the situation and her medical history. Throughout, they listened intently while looking me straight in the eye. They asked clarifying questions and repeated the situation back to me to ensure they were clear.

Collect data and monitor with full attention. Once they understood the situation, they started data collection and monitoring of blood pressure, EKGs, and pulse rate. They checked the data several times to confirm their findings. With more questions about her history, they established a picture of her immediate health with the data to back it up. They were 100% focused on and attentive to her and her reactions: Did this this hurt? Is that uncomfortable? Excuse me as I attach the EKG leads. All attention was on her. There were no distractions.

Decide with collaboration. Now they were armed with context, data and trends. It was enough to make a decision about a prudent course of action. They discussed their recommendation with me along with the reasons. The top priority was the best care for her. We collaborated on the options with a common goal. Soon, we were loaded into a helicopter on our way to a large hospital in Austin. Within 30 minutes, my mother was in a skilled ER undergoing a full gamut of tests and treatments.

Perhaps you are thinking that there is nothing remarkable in this scenario. Consider for a moment what didn’t happen. We essentially had a “business” meeting in the living room but it was unlike most business meetings. In our meeting, we did not step on each other’s sentences trying to be the next to speak. We didn’t interrupting each other in our zeal to communicate our idea. No one insisted that their idea was the best way forward. No one pretended to listen while also checking their cell phone.
All of us would benefit from using these three principles practiced by EMTs to improve meetings and their outcome.

• Listening. Each person listens to the other with the intention to understand – truly understand. There are few interruptions because each person seeks to grasp the points of view of the others. It is common to hear, “Let me repeat that back to make sure I understand.”
• Collaboration. Everyone collaborates respectfully by taking advantage of what the others bring to the situation. Each person has unique perspectives and points of view. Imagine the wisdom available in the room if all of it is accessed in the discussion. Cooperation only works when each person is open to the ideas of others and release the strangle-hold on their own idea.
• Attention. Everyone is fully present in the moment without distractions. Research shows that accuracy reduces by as much as 50% for both tasks when multi-tasking. Can you afford to reduce the quality of the meeting by that much in order to check emails or text? That should not be okay for any of us. It certainly would not have worked for my mother’s health. With full attention, all participants can work toward a common goal without the need to push a particular point of view.

Imagine what a business meeting would be like if we adhered to this effective meeting agenda in every business meeting. Imagine the collaborative energy, the focused attention and the ability to find the most productive solution that takes advantage of everyone’s skills. EMTs may not be the CEO of a company or earning the big bucks in a corporate environment but, there’s a lot we can learn from EMTs about the value of listening, collaboration and attention. If you don’t believe me, just ask my mother.


Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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