By: Rob Weidamoyer
The realization of being wrong about something can be surprising, expected, or even so commonplace that no reaction is generated. Teaching high school students allows me to see all of these occur on a daily basis and without any hesitation or attempt to shield the natural expression from others until after the fact. However, twelve years in public safety allowed me to see reactions no human should ever have to endure, especially those that have just learned a family member or loved one is no longer alive and in the absolute worst cases, saw what little may be left of that individual. Nature and Nurture (Moran, Harris and Moran, 2011) have demonstrated that not all leadership qualities are the direct result of just genetics and environment.
I spent a career learning from some of the best first responders in the Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and New York City areas. Individuals who had seen things I couldn’t fathom, and were less affected by them due to years on the job of countless tragedies. These policemen, firefighters and other emergency service workers had leadership skills that absolutely could not be taught in a classroom and were not hereditary. They were the result of untenable environments and knowledge of previous incidents shared by those that came before them who knew passing along that information was the only way some of these people may survive. While all of the management skills in the world worked great back at a firehouse where gathering money and organizing a dinner required low level administrative effort, the ability to mitigate a life and death situation was actually less of a challenge for a group like this because they had more experience than any one person should ever know.
The picture below shows urgency that can only be experienced when a life is on the line.
The Human Factors in Change (Moran, Harris and Moran, 2011) are what allow some people to handle situations with ease when that same type of event would make others physically ill or give them nightmares for weeks. Surgeons see blood more than most people, but yet others faint at the sight of blood, so how can anything in the business world or even my classroom be effectively presented to employees, clients or students without risking the worst possible reactions? Adaptive Systems (Moran, Harris and Moran, 2011) allow for the mitigation of potential discomfort or even offensive presentations where these efforts can circumvent the usual roadblocks faced when attempts are made to shift operational details to increase productivity.
Positioning all of the desks in my classroom in an evenly spaced circle allows no one to hide in the back of the room as they are all now “up front”. A fire officer continuing to provide direction and motivation to his crew upon the discovery of a charred body allows them to still get the job done without being overwhelmed by the sight. Business managers can generate incentive programs for achievement in new production practices that may be initially met with heavy resistance. All of these examples are both forms of management and mitigation, but much like the constant misuse of the word “inspiration” when the speaker actually should be saying “motivation”, the clarity brought by knowing more skills can be learned from those around us if we follow their example of focus and drive by being open enough to accept that we may not have the best method in mind.
FDNY Rescue 2 (2011) Available at: http://www.firecompanies.com/MFC/public/gallery_images/01317739480_orig.jpg. [Last Accessed September 27, 2014].
Moran, R.T, Harris, P.R, Moran, S.V. (2011) Managing Cultural Differences Leadership Skills and Strategies for Working in a Global World,. Oxford: Routledge
Redmond, Brian (2014) Leadership in a Global Context. The Pennsylvania State University World Campus