As a former emergency room doctor, every time I stepped onto the ER floor I was leading a different team. The patients were different, the staff was different and the challenges were different, but the fundamental leadership principles remained the same.
You don’t have to be the CEO of your company or the manager of your department to be considered a leader. We’re all leaders and how we conduct ourselves impacts the morale and productivity of those around us. No matter your role in the company, you will face different situations, different people and different challenges.
Here are three lessons I learned during my time as an ER doctor. They were a tremendous help to me then and throughout my career as well. Hopefully, they will help you too.
Stay Calm Under Pressure:
The leader sets the tone and people will take their cue from you. If you’re frenetic, so is your team; if you’re volatile, so is your team. If you lose your temper on a regular basis, it may not make those around you outwardly angry but it will signal to everyone that you are not in control of your emotions and ruin your credibility.
Staying calm under pressure is not a character trait. Most of us aren’t born with it, but it can be learned. During my time in the ER, I would often ask myself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Often times the answer was that someone could die. And if someone’s heart stopped beating in front of me, I knew what to do.
So what’s the worst thing that could happen for you? You’ll lose the account? You won’t get the promotion? You’ll get fired? Most times, the worst case scenario never comes to pass.
Admit Your Mistakes:
We all wake up in the morning and set out to do our best work. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. You screw up, someone on your team screws up… it happens.
Over the years as an emergency room physician, I treated thousands of people involved in motor vehicle accidents. Every accident was different and yet they all had one thing in common – it was always the other person’s fault. Thousands of people and thousands of stories and not once did any story ever start with the words “I hit him.”
Mistakes happen, but how you react matters more than what you did. It has been my experience that people can forgive a mistake but they don’t take kindly to being lied to or fooled.
So if you make it wrong, make it right because some day either you or someone on your team is going to make a big blunder. If it’s you, admit it. If it’s someone on your team, stay calm. And hopefully, no one will be admitted to the hospital!
Value Everyone on Your Team:
Many times leaders think of their team as their direct reports. Your team is bigger than you think and everyone’s role is vital to the success of the organization.
If you have a secretary in the department, she is on your team; if you work late into the night, the pizza delivery man is on your team; the janitor is on your team; FedEx is on your team. Everybody whose job enables you to do your job is on your team because if these people didn’t do their jobs, you couldn’t do yours.
When I worked in the ER, I always said hello to the janitor. We didn’t even speak the same language but I would smile at him and he would smile at me. Everyone was so busy in the emergency room that no one spoke to the janitor. But if he didn’t clean up the place, we couldn’t function. If housekeeping didn’t clean up the blood after a trauma, we couldn’t have treated the next trauma.
Valuing everyone on your team is easier than you think. It involves saying thank you and following up.
“Thank you for typing that report. Because you organized it so well, I was able to present it succinctly and we closed the account.”
“Thank you for bringing that patient to radiology yourself. He has pneumonia and we’re going to admit him to the hospital.”
It’s a simple approach that will make people in your department feel like they are also part of your team. Because they are.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in business, in medicine or anywhere in-between, we all want the same things. We want to be heard, we want to be seen and we want to be appreciated. Decisions that get made in the workplace are either going to help people lead happy and productive lives or go to work stuck in a job that they hate, miserable and dejected. As a leader, every decision you make affects someone’s life.