Andre V. Jones
My manager told me once that by listening to radio traffic he knew who the supervisor on duty was in the dispatch center. He said there was something about their aura that had the ability to control the temperament in the room. When I actually considered it, he was correct; the attitude of employees is a direct reflection of their leadership.
Having worked with many different types of supervisors in the dispatch center over the years, it takes a unique individual to manage internal and external crises, simultaneously. It’s important to acknowledge the latter because senior managers and even executives often forget that the role of the supervisor is not exclusive to managing incidents but also managing people—people who have emotions and needs beyond their duty. The people are what make the organization what it is.
I was listening to Las Vegas Fire Combined Communications (Nevada, USA) Supervisor Letha Lofton describe her actions on the day of the Route 91 Massacre (Oct. 1, 2017, when a single gunman opened fire on a crowded music festival). In that brief presentation at NAVIGATOR 2018, she displayed exemplary spirit, tenacity, and grace.
Lofton said her team was initially confused, overwhelmed, and helpless. “Baby, I got you,’’ she told them, and in that moment, it was all the support needed to bring out the best in her team. They were no longer hopeless because they all had an incredible guardian that moved out of the way to allow them to stay strong for each other.
Lofton’s composure kept her team together that night. Yes, the team members do have individual operational and coping skills, but I believe they were activated and guided under the support of her leadership. I believe in that situation, the supervisor switched from task-oriented to relationship-oriented, allowing fortitude, solicitude, endurance, and perseverance to thrive that night. Under similar circumstances I have seen supervisors escalate the crisis by trying to be too participative and directive. Lofton showed us that empathy and compassion inspire.
Sarah McCrae, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue (LVFR) Assistant Fire Chief, who arrived at the center within the first hour of the incident, commended the strength of Lofton’s team that night during her remarks at the NAVIGATOR Opening Session. “That night, our team undeniably had vision, they knew what they were after and what they were about. And so despite the fear, the concern, and the confusion, they pressed ahead and provided calm reassurance to our community and our first responders.”
So what type of leader is best for the emergency dispatch center? Any leadership style that can create an effective team. Fellow leaders, ask yourself:
- Do you have a purpose, and are we accomplishing it?
- Are you providing satisfactory leadership to your employees, customers, clients, and society; are we motivated and coordinated?
- Can you adapt to new opportunities and minimize obstacles (do you embrace change)?
- Are you capable of developing your own tasks and abilities?
- Would you survive in a world of uncertainties (resiliency, continuity)?
A good leader can assess and diagnose talent to see that the right people are doing the right jobs. A good leader can empower the team by enabling the team members to navigate and respond to change. Good leadership encourages interaction and communication among members, a shared understanding, goals, interest, and mutual positive attitudes. Heart, intellect, and improvisation are resources to make the right decision and get the job done. Ultimately, leaders take responsibility for the results.
Operational effectiveness hinges on team confidence. In a technical and tactical job like emergency dispatch, the team must be empowered to use what they know and practice. That is where the leader comes in.
Are you the leader of an effective team?