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Friday, July 26, 2013

Succession Planning: The Importance of Continuing Leadership Education

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, July 2013
Written by John R. Brophy, director of quality assurance at Mobile Medical Response and the author of Leadership Essentials for Emergency Medical Services.  His experience spans 30 years and includes leadership development training at the local, regional, national and international levels.  He is a former fire department captain and Navy corpsman, and currently serves as the NAEMT liaison to APCO.

The development of leaders in an organization is vital to both its current and future success.  With the increasing rate of changes within the emergency communication field, and the ever growing focus on accountability of supervisors and managers, leadership competency will continue to play a central role in the success or failure of organizations and their leaders.

There are a number of ways leadership development can be accomplished, and no one "magic bullet" course or activity will provide what they need.  In many ways, leadership is a mindset.  It is not about title or position; it is about vision, communication and motivation.  To find the most success, leadership development programs must be multifaceted and ongoing.

Formal leadership courses are a great first step.  They provide core content and a foundation for the overall program, but these programs need to be meaningful and timely.  For example, if you promote a couple of people to supervisor positions and you have a leadership course that is required for all new supervisors, then it's important that they be scheduled for it promptly so that they are given the information and inspiration they need to begin their new role.  Some key elements should include providing them with insights on making the transition from "buddy to boss," which is often the most challenging of transitions in all of leadership, as well as discussions of ethics, interpersonal communications, leadership styles and other key elements that may be organization specific.

Often, new supervisors are promoted, assigned to work alongside a "seasoned" supervisor and considered trained.  While this approach does train them to do the job, it often doesn't provide them with the insights they need to begin to grow as a leader in their new job.  Providing some core material on what the organization expects, as well as what they should expect as they transition and take the next step in their career, will probide them with the insights they need to grow as a leader and, when well-executed, will send a message that their success is important to the organization.

To truly develop its leaders, an organization must further invest by providing ongoing activities and support.  With limited budgets, leadership development and other programs are often put on the chopping block.  In order to save them, the middle and upper leadership teams must creatively balance cost and benefit.  These key personnel  need the mindset that leadership development is not just a nice perk, but is actually a must have and is an investment in the future of the organization.

Through a commitment to the importance of leadership development and the application of some creative thought and collaboration, a lot of leadership development can be built into the daily, weekly and monthly routines with very little extra cost.  But for organizations to succeed in creating a leadership development program, they must first recognize and then accept that they have a leadership deficit.  If it is accepted that the deficit is actually an opportunity in the making, then an organization can achieve great things.  I recall working for an organization that invested in leadership development.  As the foundational event, we had a two-day leadership retreat away from the office.  When we returned, staff feedback was positive.  Our transformation from managers to leaders was underway, and it was palpable.

After a couple of months though, we started showing signs of our preleadership retreat selves and quickly realized we needed a "maintenance plan."  Conducting a leadership retreat every few months would be costly and time consuming, so that was clearly not the answer.  Instead, we implemented a monthly management meeting that provided opportunities to do more than just report on past, current and future events.  We began building leadership development activities into each of the meetings.  By taking the time we were already spending on management reporting and better utilizing the time by including some form of leadership activity each month, we had our "maintenance plan" underway at little additional expense.

Another inexpensive activity that can keep the leadership fire burning is what I call a "mini book club."  Find an article that focuses on a leadership topic and send it to your leadership team.  Granted, some will read it and some won't, but putting it out there and taking the "if you build it they will come" approach will engage many and send the message to all that leadership is important to you and the organization.  Over time, more will begin to read what you send, and as they do they will expand their minds and begin to anticipate the next article.  I turned this strategy into a "mini book club" by using a conference call we already had scheduled for on-duty supervisors and managers every Friday and extending the call five to ten minutes.  Depending on the topic, sometimes everyone was very engaged and the call would last an extra 15 minutes or more.  Members of the team had input on the topic and, over time, they began to take turns selecting the articles and facilitating the discussion.

Rotating the facilitation of the call and of meetings is another no-cost leadership development activity.  Supplying supervisors and junior managers with developmental activities builds their communication and organizational skills and provides them with opportunities to be the driver in the organization's journey to the future, rather than just a passenger.  Assigning collateral duties is yet another way of achieving leadership development and getting work done simultaneously.  Perhaps one of your supervisors could be the lead on  your quality assurance (QA) process, another could be responsible for facilitating maintenance and repairs of communications center equipment, a third could run certain reports, and so on.  By giving them ownership of their duties, you can keep them engaged while still making  sure that the work gets done in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

Relevant and timely feedback is vital in leadership development and succession planning.  Current and aspiring leaders need to be encouraged when they succeed and coached when opportunities for improvement exist.  There are many ways to do this, including involving their supervisor in their development.  If you think about the most effective calltaking QA processes, supervisor provided feedback is something that is clearly validated as an effective tool.  With timely and relevant feedback, calltaker proficiency and the scores that measure them improve and solidify.  The feedback is meaningful and can be applied to leadership development.  Make sure to avoid pointing out only weaknesses; be sure to point out successes too.  Say thank you, and call them out in a positive way at a meeting or send a hand written note when their performance deserves extra recognition.

Some organizations use 360 degree evaluations, mentoring and other activities that invest in their leaders and their development.  These are all great tools and should be part of the overall leadership development package that is available to your people.  Combining a 360 degree program with a mentoring or coaching program can provide great value because it identifies strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of the people around the leader and also pairs them with a mentor or coach who will help them solidify the positive, as well as improve on weaknesses.  Further, being a mentor or coach allows leadership development in addition to helping a peer or subordinate.  That's leveraging value!

Leadership development needs to be woven into the fabric of everyday activities to be the most effective.  It is often the most cost effective as well, so it becomes a value-added activity and not another expense that is headed for the cost-saving chopping block.

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