When the office is burning, you shouldn’t be playing with Jet-A

 

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So, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted; life, work, and family have got in the way. I recently changed jobs, not particularity because I wanted a new career, or was looking for a new ‘thing’, I just couldn’t do it anymore.

A little more than six years ago, I left a job running a company – one that was well paid, with great benefits, and a fantastic work-life balance, to accept a job that I had always dreamed one. Though still in my industry, it is often seen as the pinnacle of the profession. A place of respect, autonomy, freedom of expression, true input into daily operations, a TEAM. It was great, the best job, the best position, the best…Well, no. No it wasn’t the best.

Let me set this up a little bit for you. In my field there are around 10,000 people in my geographic area holding the same licensure level. Of those there are around 60 that get to fly the friendly skies for a living in a medical helicopter. Do the math = that’s 0.6% of those in my field in the area who get the opportunity to do this job. It’s an AMAZING honor and privilege to even got the change to be a flight paramedic in New England, there positions are rare, and the scope of practice is unequaled by our land based brethren. The pay is also much better then the median in the field (though I was in an executive position prior, so that had little impact on me personally), which drives a lot of paramedics to apply and give this world a shot.

I started with 4 others, a LARGE group to be oriented at the same time – 4 of us made it through, only losing one to the pains and perils of the first year of flight, though that took 2 years. This actually should have been the first warning sign, as traditionally attrition was much higher, (greater then 50%) in the recent past, but a new sheriff had recently come to town (well two of them actually), and the dynamics where changing. A few months later, we opened a new base, a remote base, away from the oversight of leadership (a term I use loosely, though it was thrown around as if it made some better then their actions really deserved). They wanted “experienced providers” to staff this base, NO EXCEPTIONS!!! Well, until there was. You see, they didn’t have enough people to staff the base, so two of us inexperienced providers were shipped down the road even though this “wasn’t safe, and dangerous for patients” just days earlier, (warning sign #2). Not a problem, because I’m me! Of course I excelled, saving many lives much to the admiration of my bosses and co-workers (OK, that may be a bit strong, but I learn a lot and held my own anyway). Didn’t go so well for the other newbie, as I think that person may be busing tables, or working a cash register now, but I digress.

We went through a bit of upheaval over the years though; a small coup d’etat occurred which was directed towards the entire governing body, but was misread by Sr. management and poor decisions were made. You see, we had at that point 5 managers to oversee about 30 people! A bit top heavy I would argue, but it was the “———” (insert company name here) way! Well, they went after the top manager, who may have been a bit of an ineffective personal leader, was a great business mind who had grown the department in his short period of time, made extensive safety and personal enhancements, and improved the reputation and bottom line. He was kneecapped, and made director of business, effectively pulling him out of all day to day operations and staff interactions – he left not long after (warning number 3).

Come to think of it, that may have been warning number 15, but I’m not going back to re-write this, so just stay with me!

We were without a true manager for about a year – even with a national search, for some reason we couldn’t get someone who was willing to lead us. The acting director was actually the number two person under the old regime, and was seen by many to be part of the problem over the past many years. Now, there is a whole Nurse v. Medic undertone in this whole thing too, but that’s for another post (maybe). Eventually, we had only 1 candidate, the acting director / current manager / old guard person was put up for the job. In an interesting twist, the organization’s leadership asked the current staff to be part of the interview process. Just so you understand why, we functioned under something called Shared Governance, meaning in theory our opinion really mattered. In reality, it was a way to try an keep a Union out of the organization by granting a pseudo-voice to the staff, without real power or impact, but I digress. I was lucky enough to be 1 of the 5 people who were granted this privilege to be part of the hiring process, though we felt since the only candidate was an internal candidate who had prior management oversight of the department that all staff should be allowed to give us their input. So… We put out a Survey Monkey to see what people felt. Response was really good, about 85% of the staff responded, and the direction of their input was overwhelmingly negative.

How can we be the staff’s representatives if we didn’t supply the hiring manager with this information? We couldn’t, so we presented it, but this didn’t sit well. See, it was now ovibous our little survey was getting in the way of the hand-picked successor, and the VP refused to even look at the results, (warning #4). Guess what? The only candidate was given the job! Shocking I know, though the truth was he really wasn’t the only candidate. The VP mistakenly also sent us the CV of a candidate who was more qualified, with more experience, more education, and a long track record of success in the industry, though she said there were no other candidates  a week earlier, (the application was date 45 dates prior, we were blatantly lied to) (warning #5).

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Now he is in power and declares “There’s a new sheriff in town!” (warning #6). Not only is that whole statement just stupid on its face, its also nonsensical and factually inaccurate. That sheriff had been in full control for over a year, and in majority control even longer! Beyond that, really, it’s really just a stupid thing to say when you walk into a new position like that.

Here comes the power trip: From HR reps being in the hanger threatening the lively hood of staff members, changes in scheduling that totally eradicated any semblance of a work-life balance, and destroying any esprit de corps department wide, it was a great first year in POWER for this new director. Things were well, the organizational leadership saw the staff as a bunch of whining malcontents, and this leader as an inspired man who would get the department back from the brink.  An interesting thing happened though. Rumors about the budget being underwater for the first time in a generation began to swirl, staff were being called off and told to use vacation time if they wanted to be paid (never had happened in 19+ years), and we seemed to be unable to hire for open positions which forced many to be re-assigned, moved, or re-scheduled disrupting family plans. Even management positions stay open, which just escalated the issue of poor oversight, and follow through.

 

WHEN THE OFFICE IS BURNING, YOU SHOULDN’T BE PLAYING WITH JET-A!

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Staff starts to walk, yet you double down on these poor decisions, bad management practices, and lack of engagement. Even more staff walks, which just makes those decisions even harder – now you can’t even staff the aircraft because you are without enough staff to do so. You continue to call-off staff, rearrange their rotations, and demand more…. MORE STAFF LEAVE! In about 3 months you loose around 100 years of experience, and find yourself having trouble getting people to accept positions to fill those vacancies. The program (or bases) are shut down because you can’t scrape together 2 people to work! REALLY?!?!

Get into a flight suit and get to work! But no, wouldn’t want to interrupt your work-life balance would we?

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I ask you, how can you not see what the cause is? Do you think the department’s reputation may be suffering? Maybe even your personal reputation in the industry may be suffering? Hell, the reputation of the entire organization may be suffering? Other regional agencies are asking questions… For the first time in modern history, those who have applied and were offered positions in this prestigious field actually TURNED THEM DOWN? REALLY? Come on! You still don’t see the why?!?!

When you come into a position without the respect or trust of those below you, there are really two ways you can go with it. You can become a dictator, forgetting that these people don’t work for you, YOU work for THEM. Stomping your feet and giving orders without caring or even simply acknowledging the concerns of the staff isn’t leading, it’s sophomoric, it’s juvenile, and beneath the office for which you hold. It leads to increased dissatisfaction, it leads to attrition which actually costs you more then all those call-offs have saved you (I know, that’s accounting, call me – I’ll give you a tutorial. It’s business not nursing, so…) It creates a whirlpool, a spiraling vortex that bring the department down and you right down with it. It’s what you said you hated in the prior director, and yet what you doubled down on. OR you can try a 360 evaluation, maybe a real root-cause analysis of the issues that presented themselves. You could lean on staff with experience in leadership, or business, or management, and use their talents to assist you.

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You COULD HAVE done all that, but you chose option #1. I’m truly sorry that you did. A great department, a great tradition, and great people will continue to suffer. As the staff losses faith, the business side will continue to deteriorate (remember, the staff are the face of the department, when you loose them…). The whirlpool continues. 6 people in 2 months, gone. It’s a small department, how much can it withstand?

Clear Skies and Tailwinds!

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And Safety Second?!?!?  Remove the net!

The peril of living for the title

    

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       We have all seen it, a ‘leader’ who is there not for their people, but for the next promotion or title. Good managers care about their people, but they also see what they need to do to move up in their organization. Great leaders motivate those who work for them, give them what they need to be successful and happy, encourage their professional growth, and provide the tools needed to complete their tasks. Part of this is mentoring, having a process in place to help grow the employees and prepare them for future responsibility. Another integral part of great leadership is working for a happy and fulfilling work environment, and that’s where this piece will focus. 

     What do our employees need to be happy? Does their happiness affect their work product, and our organization as a whole? This is a multifaceted issue, but one that can not be forgotten about if we want to maximize the output from our staff. Of course, most leaders want their staff to be happy with their jobs. We know we can not please everyone 100% of the time, but we should be striving to improve the work environment and maximize their work-life balance to keep them motivated. The question that arises is, how do we go about doing that? 

     Make the work place as safe and comfortable as possible. I’m not talking about any need for large cost investments in most cases, just simple steps that show both compassion and an understanding of the needs of our people. Maximizing of space, or simple good utilization of that space is a simple step we can take if the need is there. Have people working shoulder to shoulder, if the space is there and not being used, allow them to spread out. Nobody wants to work in a sardine can, but most understand that the cost per sq/ft for expansion may not be feasible. However if you have space, empty space that isn’t being used (and hasn’t been in some time) allow them to occupy it, at least in the short term.

     Fairness is another issue that falls into this paradigm. All staff should be treated with fairness and with equability, to do any less breeds discontent and mistrust that will be hard to overcome.  One section should not be given preferential treatment above others, be that by locality, class, or title. While positional perks are the norm (higher pay, better working conditions as you promote), in the same functional class all staff should be treated the same. The person who places widgets in the machine in San Diego should be treated fairly when compared to the person who places those same widgets in a similar machine in Boston.

      Work-Life Balance: Are they being asked to work extra shifts, attend meetings and activities in addition to their normal responsibilities, work with them on their schedules if they need a day off. Have to cover multiple departments? When no one volunteers to move to the other side, forcing them should be equitable across the board. We can’t pick favorites and give them what they want, while not understanding the pain this causes others.

    So Why Do Some Managers Not Follow These Simple Leadership Examples?

     This gets me back to the title of this piece, the peril of the title. Sometimes to achieve these ‘simple’ staples of fairness we need to stand up and ask for them to those we report to. If your goal is simply to move up yourself, the fight may not be in your personal best interest in your mind. The manner in which you ask the question can have a profound affect and the answer. If those you are asking don’t feel you are invested in the change your seeking, they can find it must easier to give you the easy no. ” Is there anyway we could possibly buy item x for the office? I know the budget is tight, and the cost is $500 dollars.” Well asking the question in that manner sets you up for the easy no; why would they spend the money when they know you don’t really care? Asking that same question in a different manner may get the hard yes. “We need to invest $500 dollars on item x for the office because we have identified that it will improve productivity and staff satisfaction within the department. I have looked at the budget, and feel this is a needed expenditure at this time.” True, you will need to be able to answer the why question/s that may follow, but you didn’t simply give your boss the easy way out, the easy no. Will this work every time? Of course not! No one should expect to win every time, ask for what you and your staff need in the right way and occasionally you may win.

     In many workplaces, we as leaders are only as good as our staff allows us to appear to be! Poor quality, lack of attention, lack of engagement all will eventually show poorly on us. It is true that in the short-term we may be able to distract from our failing by blaming others. The management staff is failing below me, they are just whinny, if I was in-charge things would be better, are poor reasons some give to explain their personal failings. Staff will change over time, middle managers will leave, but the same issues will still be there. At some point, someone above you is going to look down and say, ” WHY IS THIS STILL HAPPENING?” The title is attractive, advancement is a goal, but remember that all power corrupts, and we will all hit a bump in the road that requires self reflection – it’s the people below you that will keep you moving forward, if they are motivated, engaged, and happy…  

 

A Failure of Leadership

Sitting here today, I can not help but think about failures in leadership. With the partial shut down of the United States’ Government in progress, I found myself pondering how we got here. First off, this is not a political piece. I am looking at the ‘leaders’ in D.C. and wondering if there are any true leaders there anymore. I’m going to focus on 3 areas: The White House, The Senate, and The House of Representatives. All have failed to lead, and we find ourselves here today.

  • The White House: Over the past 5 years the White House has failed in their duty to produce a budget on-time (if at all) and get it to Congress for approval. This has lead to the governing by crisis model we have had in place for far too long. Even in a divided government, the leadership from the executive must be strong to accomplish the important tasks of the people. The President has failed here; leading by dictate and fiat does not work in a divided country. About 50% of the population supports the other side (in simple terms), and the Congress is split.
  • Senate: The Senate, predictably so, has followed to wants and wishes of the President. This is common of course when a division of Congress is controlled by the same party in power in the executive. Unfortunately what we have seen is they have taken the same strategy has the POTUS when it comes to negotiation. To lead, one must have empathy for those with opposing view points. Name calling doesn’t help (legislative terrorists).
  • House: They are not getting off easy here either. The Speaker has tried, unsuccessfully to lead a divided party. There are the go-along-to-get-alone crowd, those who stand on ideological glaciers, and the rest somewhere in-between. He has allowed one segment to dominate, while alienating the others, at this same time drawing harsh comments from the other chamber from both parties.

Leadership requires transparency, honesty, a willingness to listen to other views, open and honest dialogue among the parties involved. The three ‘leaders” in D.C. have so far been unable to muster any of the above. From the President, to the Leader, to the Speaker, a leader amongst them there is not. Entrenched and long held opposition to anything the other side offers leads us where we are today.

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             Leadership crosses all business lines; no organization can flourish without proper structure, management, vision, and implementation.  Most of the posts on this blog have concerned themselves with global leadership principals, this one is going to go a little off that track and talk about leadership in a particular business arena, healthcare.

            Healthcare is not thought of by many as a business, but regardless of the country you live in, in a modern society healthcare is most defiantly so. Be it the National Health Service (NHS) in Great Britain, the system under the Canada Health Act, or the fragmented system in the United States all these systems have one thing generally in common, they are a business that needs great leaders.

            This particular sector is currently a very hot topic in the US, with the highest per capita spending, and poor outcomes, healthcare has come to a head in this country over the past few years. The 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and it’s currently implementation issues show how leadership (or a lack there of) plays a direct role on the business of healthcare. Before I talk about the issues we are seeing in the PPACA, lets talk about the topic of healthcare leadership more globally.

            Leaders in healthcare are often thought of as hospital or healthcare organization CEO’s, unit managers, or organization executives who oversee the daily operations and strategic planning of their particular organization. Others may see that regional collaborations and those in the c-suite of those organizations play a large role in the health of the populations they serve. Maybe it’s state governors who are the real healthcare leaders in their states, leading their state legislatures to improve funding or access, appoint members to certificate of need (CON) committees, place public health officials in office, and the like. Then there’s federal leadership, the CDC, National Institute of Health, Health and Human Services all play a role in the healthcare system we have in the United States. Finally, there is congress and the President of the United States. Are they all healthcare leaders too? My answer is yes, and let me explain why.

            The United States has a fragment payment model and care system, a mix of local, state, and federal programs and facilities who compete or augment both private for and not-for-profit healthcare organizations. It is not a free model system, but a hybrid system that in reality doesn’t work very well. Because of this mixed provider and payment model, the elected officials of the country should be leaders in the healthcare industry; unfortunately we are not seeing this currently. 

            The PPACA is partially in effect, with major components of it set to be implemented on January 1st, 2014 (although it seems that many of these set dates are being pushed back).  Many aspects of the law are popular, including the exclusion of pre-existing conditions, removal of lifetime caps on coverage, and the increase in children’s eligibility on parental plans to age 26. How is it then when asked about the law generally we are seeing the following:

  • 36 percent of Americans want Congress to expand or keep the health care law while 39 percent want Congress to repeal it – the highest percentage seen in CBS News polls. The poll also found a majority of Americans – 54 percent – disapprove of the health care law, 36 percent of Americans approve of it and 10 percent said they don’t know about it.”…” The poll also found just 13 percent of Americans say the health care law will personally “help me” while 38 percent said they believe the law will personally “hurt me.” (CBS NEWS Poll-July 2013)
  • From what you have heard about Barack Obama’s health care plan that was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in 2010, do you think his plan is a good idea or a bad idea?  Good Idea 34%, Bad Idea 47%…” (WSJ Poll July 2013)
  • “If you were given the opportunity to vote only on whether to keep the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare in place or repeal it, how would you vote? Keep the Law 40%, Repeal the law 53%…” (Fox News Poll July 2013)

 

            So why is there such a disparity between aspects of the law people like and the overall disapproval of the law?  I believe it is all to do with the total lack of leadership on this issue. We are not seeing anyone be a leader here, typical of Washington, but very disappointing on such an important topic. From the political leaders all we get is posturing, empty comments, false promises, and rhetoric. From our healthcare executives across the country we are seeing nothing much. A few major organizations have taken a stance on the law, from most we are hearing crickets. With no leadership in D.C., really nothing coming from our healthcare leaders, and the state politicians breaking down party lines (regardless of any facts about the law being presented to them) it is no wonder why the American public is confused, disheartened and uninformed. 

            This is not a political post, it’s a leadership (lack of leadership) post about a very large sector of the U.S. economy, a major employer and provider of services, that is being mislead by those who seek to lead. Someone needs to stand up and put truth to words, inform all of us of the real issues in healthcare, and lead us into the 21st century of healthcare in this country. It can’t be done by fiat, law, or taxes, it takes people to lead. Step up!

 

 

A Few Great Quotes

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If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams

I find this quote to very revealing about leadership. Inspiring your staff to be greater the day they leave your organization then the day they came in, to nourish their passions, and engage their creativity; a leader who can accomplish these is a true servant leader.

 

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No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it. —Andrew Carnegie

 

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Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch

Mentoring – Why Aren’t You Doing It?

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                   The development of future leaders is one of the qualities of servant leadership according to Skip Preichard [i], but is one area where many ‘leaders’ fall short. There are many reasons for this, but I want to address the most pathological reason – fear of competition.

The fear of competition is not something that most managers will acknowledge, at least openly, although all to many of them suffer from this malady.  Many people who see themselves as a leader (different from actually being a leader), think of themselves as the best and brightest in their area, and they have a hard time accepting that there very well may be many subordinate to them who are not only as capable at doing their job, they may be the future leaders of the organization if they are given the tools to advance. One of the goals of any true leader should be to cultivate the capabilities of those below them, and develop them into the next generation of leadership, even if they someday replace you!

How does a leader go about identifying and nurturing the future leaders of their organization? First is identification of the future leaders of your organization.  While various organizations have training pipelines in place, a pathway for leadership development or what have you, though utilizing only these structured processes can lead to missed opportunities. There are a few traits that good leaders should possess that you can identify early on in someone’s employment that identify good candidates for mentoring; willingness to learn and take on responsibility, emotional intelligence, a level head, and empathy[ii] are easy to ascertain by simple observation and engagement.

Once you identify those who posses these traits, an informal or true mentorship can go along way in their development. Not only does having this process in place benefit the employees, it can be a win for the organization as well in the areas of employee retention, engagement, and recruitment. Lets be honest, no one likes being in a dead-end job where their opportunities for growth in the organization are limited at best. Even if someone doesn’t want to move up, as humans we have a need for the ability for growth. From the organizational perspective, having formal mentoring processes in place allows your company to retain human and intellectual capital, and foster employee loyalty over the long-term (something that todays companies struggle with in the era of frequent employment change).  Along with this, mentoring engages both the mentor and the mentee in the goals and operations of the organization in a positive way. I am not saying that all mentor programs work well, unfortunately this is not the case. However there are ways to maximize the mentor experience for all involved. Bowing Corporations suggests that mentor programs need to have a specified period of time, a strong structure for matching a mentor with a mentee, ongoing evaluations of the process, among others.[iii] These are easy targets to hit, if you want to invest the minimal time it will take to set them up.

So, back to they why this may not be part of your process – fear of competition.  In some cases there is a fear from managers that those below them may actually replace them before you feel it is your time to move on. Some show this by making poor hiring decisions, only bringing in those that will never be competition to them for whatever reason. Others simply ignore the potential they have in front of them, allowing great people to leave instead of fostering their growth. Those in the latter case may make the work environment marginally hostile, or at least moderately miserable for their subordinates so they choose to move on. Those leaders shut the door on their staffs’ abilities without consideration of out-of-the-box possibilities that could be explored.  Having this type of management style may be personally beneficial in the short term to you, but from an organizational level it is toxic, leading to dissatisfaction and hostility.

Starting a mentoring process is easy, great leaders throughout your organization will be willing to engage employees in a mentor-mentee relationship (as this is an attribute of being a great leader). Maybe it’s not your personal interest to be involved, and that is fine. Reach out to other leaders in your organization and establish a mentor program for your staff.  Don’t worry about competition as that is really out of your hands anyway. Your staff, department, and organization will only be stronger for it in the long run.


[i]  Prichard, Skip., 9 Qualities of the Servant Leader, Skip Prichard Leadership Insights, Retrieved on July 28, 2013 from http://www.skipprichard.com/9-qualities-of-the-servant-leader/

[ii]  HC Online., Identifying the future leaders of your company, Human Capital Management Online, Retrieved on July 28, 2013 from http://www.hcamag.com/opinion/identifying-the-future-leaders-of-your-company-128539.aspx

[iii] Sterling, Robert., 1-to-1 learning; Mentoring helps Boeing prepare leaders-and attract, retain and develop the company’s employees, Boeing Frontiers, February 2007