Care for their employees, effective communication and maximizing individual talents set People Driven Leaders apart from the rest.
For most of us, one of the first emotions we learn to signal as children is happiness. Despite living on continents oceans apart, growing up in contrasting cultures and speaking other languages, human beings express happiness pretty much the same way. We smile. We laugh. We dance around. We lift our voices. We jump and embrace and applaud.
Some signs — like those of happiness — are universal.
While conducting research for my upcoming book, “People Driven Leadership: How the Best 9-1-1 Centers Inspire Positive Change,” I worked with teams at more than two dozen 9-1-1 communication centers across the country who have successfully changed the culture of their centers. These teams have made incredible improvements: reduced sick time usage, halved overtime spending, increased trainee success rates.
I studied each center and spoke with their team members. Each was unique. Team members came from different cultures and backgrounds, had varying levels of education and were a variety of ages. If each were so successful, there had to be something they all had in common. There had to be something universal.
The answer, I realized, was deceptively simple. Though each of these successful comm centers might have different struggles, they all shared one universal strength: what I call “People Driven Leaders.”
It was People Driven Leaders who had reduced sick time usage by 50 percent. It was People Driven Leaders who chopped OT spending in half. People Driven Leaders were responsible for improving trainee success rates by 50 percent, and for reducing their average turnover from 40 percent to virtually zero.
Across the country, the signs — and effects — of People Driven Leaders are universal.
Being a People Driven Leader might not be as innate as something like happiness, but it is something you can learn. Here’s how you can identify People Driven Leaders in your center and work to become one yourself:
3 SIGNS OF A PEOPLE DRIVEN LEADER
#1) They’re always looking for ways to care for their people.
At the beginning of my career, I worked as a 9-1-1 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department, one of the largest comm centers in the country with over 600 employees.
Stress is magnified and contagious in a big center. To unwind during shifts, I decided to design weekly stress reduction sessions that my coworkers could participate in. It was a total win, I thought: I could help my team relax while at the same time relaxing myself and refining my program each week.
I’d been exposed to many types of leadership styles during my time there, however, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when I proposed my plan to the new Captain who’d recently been assigned to Communications.
When I finished explaining, he simply said, “I’m all for it. Anything that can make life easier around here, I’ll support.”
He could have rejected me. He could have agreed, and then not followed through with support. But by taking measures to improve the quality of life of those under his charge, Captain showed he was a People Driven Leader invested in the well-being of his employees.
My stress reduction program ran for 18 months and helped over 100 coworkers learn to relax and destress on the job. Without key support from a People Driven Leader, we all would have struggled a little more to get through our shifts.
#2) They communicate — with everyone.
Many 9-1-1 communications professionals struggle personally with the very thing we succeed at professionally: communicating. But there’s no room at a successful comm center for mixed messages or misunderstandings, and People Driven Leaders know how to encourage direct communication between coworkers and supervisors alike.
One Deputy Chief of a large comm center in the Southwest told me how he promotes effective communication. The key, he said, was keeping open lines of communication with everyone in his center. He spent time on the floor talking with his employees. He learned about the center’s troubles and the staff’s issues. He looked to the center’s informal leaders for insight, and invited them to weekly meetings to bring up rumors or topics the rest of the staff wanted to address.
This Deputy Chief showed his People Driven Approach by demonstrating to each of his employees that they were worth communicating with — and in return, the team was happier, healthier and performed their duties more effectively.
“Mission and vision matter,” he told me, “but it’s the daily communication about why we do what we do that makes the biggest difference.”
#3) They maximize the potential of their people.
Ineffective leaders are satisfied with the status quo. Delegating and maximizing their employees’ talents matter little to them if it means extra effort or time on their part.
People Driven Leaders, on the other hand, know that empowering their employees makes an incredible impact not only on individual workers’ happiness, but on the overall success of the center too. The Deputy Chief above shared one of the strategies he used to empower his employees when he took command of his center.
He created a supervisor certification class which promotion candidates could attend on their days off to learn about subjects such as managing people, legal issues and collective bargaining. Once completed, candidates were then deemed qualified to apply to an open supervisor position. The expectations were high and the work difficult. Not everyone finished the class, or even completed training once appointed to their probationary supervisor positions.
But this program served two purposes, the Deputy Chief told me: It motivated eligible employees by giving them a challenging and attainable target to shoot for, and it illustrated the center’s new standard of excellence, for supervisors and floor personnel alike.
People Driven Leaders share common characteristics. They know what they stand for, and they work daily to bring this vision to life. They have the courage to be vulnerable in the pursuit of this vision. In centers in states across the country, they use these skills, talents and traits to change center culture, making a positive impact on everyone they reach.
Thanks for reading this article, containing excerpts of my upcoming book, “People Driven Leadership: How the Best 9-1-1 Centers Inspire Positive Change.” In anticipation of its release on April 13th, I’m excited to share brief snapshots like this each Wednesday and Friday, exclusively for The Healthy Dispatcher community. This is the first article of 20. Stay tuned for the next!
“People Driven Leadership: How the Best 9-1-1 Centers Inspire Positive Change” will be available on April 13, 2020, the beginning of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. For more details, visit The Healthy Dispatcher website.