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Are You Available?: How Great Leaders Prepare for the Unplanned

TIGNUM Thoughts

May 9th, 2020
By Scott Peltin

There’s a common saying, “Failing to have a plan is planning to fail.” But how often do you start the day with the best-laid plans, only to find they get obliterated by 10 am? You plan your meetings strategically, you schedule appropriate recovery breaks, you start your day strong, and you pre-plan for your most important meeting of the day with some powerful intentions. But then an unexpected call comes in, and then an important request pops up, and then a shift in priorities happens, and so on, and so on. As you begin to feel overwhelmed as the cognitive and emotional loads start to take a toll on you, you wonder why you even created a plan in the first place.

For many, this is probably the norm rather than the exception. So, what do you do on these all too common days? Simple - you create a plan. Believe me, I get the irony of this. But let me share an approach that helped me when I was a captain on a very busy fire truck.

In the fire station, our day started with a daily calendar. This calendar showed all of our daily duties, our weekly training, our physical exercise, and other requirements like housework, inspections, school presentations, etc. As we followed this calendar and moved through our day, we were often interrupted with emergency (and sometimes not-so-emergency) requests. On some days, our customers would go crazy and show total disregard for our ‘nicely planned, scheduled calendar’.

Whenever we got dispatched on an emergency call, the lights would come on in the station and a very directive voice told us what the emergency was and where we needed to go. Then, we jumped on the truck and I hit the “Responding” button to let everyone on the call see that we were en route. When we got on the scene, we hit the “On Scene” button. In this status, we were unavailable for other calls. If another customer needed help during that time, the dispatcher would send another unit that was either available in quarters or available on the radio.

On very busy days, where we were running call after call, this could get physically, cognitively, and emotionally exhausting. Sometimes, it wasn’t the number of calls, but rather the order of the calls, the complexity of the calls, and the emotion of certain calls that had the biggest impact. To go on a car accident call, followed by a house fire, followed by a pediatric drowning was exhausting in all ways. On these days, I implemented my Plan B recovery plan.

As we finished up on a call, I would quickly assess the status of myself, my crew, and even my apparatus (our supplies). On crazy busy days, I would simply not push the “Available On Radio” button. To the outside world, we were still on a call, so we were unavailable. In our world, we were hydrating, grabbing a quick snack, cleaning up, taking a breather, restocking the truck, and getting emotionally recharged. During this unplanned, yet much needed, recovery break, I would monitor the radio in case a critical call came in where we were needed. But to be honest, in my 25 years, that happened very few times.

When the crew was recharged and ready to go, I pushed the “Available On Radio” button and we were fully back in the system. My Plan B gave us not only the greatest chance to be our best, but it also prevented injuries, prevented mistakes, and helped us avoid bringing our stress home to our families. There wasn’t a manual or guide that told me to do this; I was simply driven by the necessity to create a simple, successful, and repeatable Plan B to make sure my crew and I were getting adequate recovery.

The next time you start to feel your day getting away from you, and you start to feel overwhelmed or fatigued, try not hitting your “Available on Radio” button and see how it works.

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