You can be a leader at any rank in your service. In fact, your service needs more leaders at every rank, especially in the front lines. And that is what we are gonna be diving in today in the 911 Shift Ready podcast.
So I often hear from first responders that in order to be a leader, they need to promote. They want to promote, they want to get up the chains of command because once they get up the chains of command that’s only where they’re going to have a pull in order to make change. But I’d be very curious in asking you is how many high ranking individuals do you know where they don’t have the respect of those below them? And they don’t even know what their guys need or they don’t have the skills or the pull to get them what they need in order to feel supported and perform at their best. And then we all know the opposite of somebody who is lower ranking, who has the respect of their team and is able to figure out ways to get their team what they need to perform at their best. Right?
Which begs the question is everyone who is promoted a good leader? I’m banking with no, I mean, you and I know this in services, a lot of the stressors are admin stressors. As you’re going up the ranks and there’s always this goldmine of somebody who is just such a phenomenal leader and then there’s the opposite. So we have both as we are going up the chains.
So there was a quote, if I don’t know if any of you listened to the Squad Room podcast. It is an amazing podcast. Their episode number 159 was an interview with Jeff Halstead. And Jeff actually was the chief of a service. He worked his way all the way through the ranks. He’s done so much in policing and now works outside of policing. And he said that a leader is not based on rank. Some of the most powerful leaders that he has ever worked with around are beat cops, detectives, specialty unit officers. And he says that one of the big problems is that policing hasn’t advanced in communications like it needs.
It’s such a good episode that I would dive into, but it’s so important to note that somebody who has been a chief has said that some of the most powerful leaders he’s ever worked around our beat cops, detectives, specialty unit officers. You don’t need to promote. Promoting is great if you would like to do it and that’s where you would like to go, but you can stay exactly where you are and have such an impact on your team.
Something really does need to change because we need more leaders. Suicide rates when I started this, this was in 2018. Suicide rates were three times that of line of duty deaths for police officers. And that was before black lives matters, before COVID and a lot of the defunding. And I know that they’re very high as well for fire and EMS. We need better leaders at every single stage. And leaders that are not going to threaten the position of someone who’s struggling. We need a leader that knows the signs early in order to not let things get that far. And we need leaders who will set examples of how to navigate through all of the shifts and home life that is thrown at you during your entire career.
So let’s look at Tom Brady, Russell Wilson. They’re not coaches, but they are looked up to on their team and they truly help lead. They are someone on the team throughout their behaviors, their actions, their communication that they have become the one that the team looks up to. The ones that they want to emulate. They start going to that teammate to Tom Brady, to Russel Wilson they go start going to them for advice. They’re mimicking what they’re doing in between, before, and during games. And they become their role model. That role model can impact the guys more than the coach can at times. When the coach needs something, they may ask that the role model to help them get the guys on board. And the guys that are up in the box, watching the game, the higher ups, the CEOs, the ones that make hiring and firing decisions, they are rarely able to influence these guys on the court or on the field, if ever as much as one of their own teammates is able to.
And Jocko Willink, he talks about leadership in the Navy seals and he talks about how at every single level in the chain of command from the ground up that every single there needs to be a leader. And that is integral. It’s an integral part as to how each mission goes based on each leader at each chain of command. If you don’t have someone at each level that is setting the example and being a leader that the team needs to be then the mission won’t go as well. So if the team on the ground does not have someone that they look up to who took care of themselves as best as they could before the mission, if they’re on time, always making sure not only themselves, but the rest of the team has all of their gear, whatever else they need. Be it a conversation to let them know that it’s going to be okay to be scared and what to expect then the mission will not go as well.
If that individual is going out drinking, they’re not prioritizing sleep. They’re not calm and collected. They’re verbally talking smack about their family or the others on their team or their service then that is what the team is actually going to emulate. So the big thing, though, from all of this that I’m seeing basing this on, really wanting to get these suicide rates down and make sure that all of the guys are okay is making sure that we have a leader that in the 911 world that knows the signs of burnout.
If you do not know the signs of burnout, then you’re not going to be able to see them in the team until it’s too late. That’s when you start getting medical leaves and stuff. And sometimes when guys go out on medical leave, people are like, I had no idea. But if you knew the signs of burn before that, you would be able to start taking action before it gets to that point. And that’s what I really wanna be diving into today.
So the signs of burnout that you can be looking for as a team lead is is somebody short fused? Are they easily frustrated? Did they not have any motivation or drive? Are they absolutely exhausted? Not pulling their weight anymore? Sucking back coffees like there’s no tomorrow? Having gut issues? Are they needing to sometimes book off because of their gut? Or when you’re on shift with them are they having this bowel smelling gas all the time or needing to go to the bathroom all the time? They having sleep struggles. Nagging injuries in the gym or they’re not working out anymore like they used to. Starting to complain more. These are things that if you notice a change in someone.
Now, when you look at somebody who is frustrated to deal with and all of that, you can start going back to the start of their career and find out what they used to be like. Have they always been an ass? If they’ve always been an ass, if they’ve always been egotistical then maybe that’s what it is. But if they haven’t, if you start hearing from them from different units or different divisions or services that they worked for, that they were stellar that they were a team player, that they were calm, cool, and collected. Then you know that something’s going on with them. So start seeing these different signs. Sleep is a big one. Just randomly ask people how they’ve slept. How long does it take you to have a sleep? Like you could go around and find out how long it takes every kind in your unit to fall asleep. And it’s gonna be a long time for a lot of them.
How often they wake up? How exhausted they feel when they wake up? These are quick and easy questions that you can absolutely ask them that will start giving you signs before it gets to the point where they start needing to take medical leave. Where it’s really affecting them on the job and at home. Suicidal thoughts. Now this is one that surprised me when I started doing what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this since 2018. And when I’m always talking about the physical symptoms as I just listed. Short fuse, sleep, gut, motivation and drive, energy. We talk about these things in my program. But it is very fascinating. Oh, anxiety, depression, these as well.
So if somebody’s starting to worry about more, starting to be hyper vigilant more, can’t turn it off those are things to start looking for and we talk about those things. But from a physical standpoint, that when they go through my program and I’ll get them about six months in when we’ve really gotten them out of a lot of these physical symptoms, stronger and aligned. And they’re doing really well is when they will tell me that when they started my program, they were having suicidal thoughts.
And first off if anybody had of been and I knew it, I would’ve had them on a hotline and in therapy right away. But through not knowing it, them not telling me, they weren’t feeling like they wanted to take their life. They were having kind of almost visions of taking their life, but they were like, but I don’t wanna do it. If that makes sense. This is what I’ve been told through working with these guys. I am not an expert in this but it has been fascinating how they’ve told me that these visions that would be going on in their mind or these like, almost like, kind of like a flashback, but it’s something going on in the future were gone. And that was through working through the physical size of stress.
So when you have, I mean, we’ve had stories as well of some phenomenal leaders in our program that we’ve worked with. Where through learning all of these tools, learning all the signs and symptoms. There’s one officer in our program that was telling me about an officer in her team that was always trying to do more, always trying to do like take on cases that would’ve been the next level up, their staff Sergeant. And taking on all of his stuff, talking bad about everybody on their team and all that stuff. And she started seeing these signs of burnout. And then through the program, we’ve also worked on different ways to be able to have conversations with these people and be able to shift their perspectives or to be able to help them out. And I know we worked on these during one coaching call one week and she came back the next week and she’s like, “Oh my God, it’s working. He’s calmer. He’s more open to things, to other ideas of our teammates, and all of these things started happening.”
And she’s realized she has put in for promotion, but she has realized that she can really make an impact without having the promotion. And the extra stress and the hours of going into it that she still is in for the promotional process. But she is using all of the skills and leadership skills that she has acquired of understanding the list of burnout symptoms and understanding small little ways to start shifting beliefs in some of them or helping them navigate some of what is going on to be able to be a strong leader on her team.
Now, this one is a different story where this was an officer where he was pretty much disengaged. There was kind of a chat with their team of like “Where’s so, and so?” He would kind of disappear on shift and he might go to the gym for a couple of hours. Show up a little late and it was almost like he didn’t care pretty aloof about everything, disengaged, he wasn’t really being a part of the team, and the team was more complaining about them. And then afterwards, we found out that this officer had a stroke. His wife was expecting their second child, or they just had their second child, which is a huge stress. He’d also previously worked at some pretty highly specialized units where you’re on call all of the time. You’re always on your days off or not your days on, the hours, and the stressors, and the traumas that occurred in that specialty of that unit were really high.
But once I found out he had a stroke. I asked somebody to do a little more digging about what was this officer like before. This officer used to be highly engaged, such a team player. Everybody liked them. They were so motivating. They had amazing paperwork. They showed up, helped everybody. They were such a solid team member and highly praised in their specialized units that they had been in. That looking back, the individual that I was speaking with about this now knows that when somebody is very disengaged, when they start digging in again. Same thing, like I said before, if somebody is angry in an asshole, find it if they were at the beginning. Were they an asshole at the start of their career or not? Because if they weren’t, then these are signs for you as being a leader of that team of looking out for your colleague to find out if they are actually struggling before things get too far.
I mean, this officer had a stroke. This is all physical. His physical body was shutting down. And then we also get to homicide and this is my opinion only, but I have encountered more homicide police, traffic homicide detectives with complex PTSD than I have of any other of fire, of EMS, of any other units in policing. This could just be what’s happening, but with homicide they’re going to horrific trauma accidents, every shift. Well, not every shift depending, but majority of the shifts and they are innocent accidents where some family makes it and some don’t. And there’s a lot of traumas with that.
And we had individual as well. It was a traffic homicide detective, and he was given once he had to go off on medical leave, he was given three months to get better. And he ended up losing his job, his dream job. He loved his job. And had somebody earlier known the signs for him, had somebody known what tools to be getting him as a team lead, he may have not gotten to the point where he had to go on medical leave and his service only allows for three months of decreased pay and decreased benefits to get themselves better.
And if you are a lead, a solid leader at any ranking, understanding the tools. This is my biggest thing understanding the tools, understanding the signs, understanding what questions to ask these guys in order to even know if the small things are happening. Know if their sleep is off. Sleep is one of the things that starts in the first five years of a first responder’s career. So knowing that the sleep once that starts decreasing, it starts this whole cascade of other burnout symptoms that start kicking in.
And so the sooner that you can start implementing strategies in order for them to support themselves, the stronger your team will be. And the thing with all of this is it starts with working with yourself first. You need to learn all the signs of stress, you need to learn how to stay strong in a 911 life versus living like a civilian, understanding crucial conversations. When you have your shit together, you are able to help others get there. But if you are still, if you are struggling with your sleep, if you are struggling with short fuse, if you’re struggling with no motivation and drive, nagging injuries, all of these things and you haven’t got yourself out, how are you gonna be able to get somebody else out?
And this is one of the things where I find it fascinating with a lot of the wellness programs at services, as many of the wellness programs are run by people that have either never experienced what you’re experiencing. Or they are experiencing it still and haven’t gotten out. Or the third one they’re implementing these programs that they’ve never tried themselves. They’re pushing therapies, which is great. But they’ve never gone to therapy themselves. They’ve never tried it themselves that how can you get somebody to buy into something that you want people to do in your wellness program if you are not doing it yourself? If you’re not walking the walk.
You know, it’s really important. So in order to be a really good resilient tactical athlete to be a leader, as a resilient tactical athlete, it is being a good communicator, good balance between taking care of others while also making sure that you get what you need to perform at your best. It needs to be someone who is aware of the stress signs in themselves and others, even the subtle ones. And then knowing what tools to take out to help themselves. Setting the example for your team. And you need to be a leader that will stand up for your team without arguing, but through action and communicating in a way that those above will listen.
So not dictating or commanding doing it in a way in a crucial conversation sort of way, that leads them to the answer where they come to it in their own way. You can’t be a good leader even if one of the following is a part of your life. If one of these is a part of your life, you’re not going to be a good leader. If you’re unable to get good quality sleep, where you wake up exhausted, so you have to push through your day. If you are easily frustrated by small things that never used to bother you. If you are complaining about your spouse, your kids, your colleagues, or your service in a non constructive way without putting in any effort to fix what’s going on. If your brain is foggy and your reports are starting to be affected. If you’re not as sharp physically or mentally as you were, when you started on the job. And if you are not taking accountability for your own actions. So these are all qualities of a bad leader. They’re the qualities as well of a rundown responder.
So you cannot be a resilient tactical athlete, like a leader. In that if you are run down. Once you think, you can think you have more energy, you’re calmer, it does become easier to promote. We’ve had so many guys that had been trying to promote and kept getting turned down. And once they started getting their brain back where they could study for the exams, where they had learned conversation skills more, they were able to really work those into their promotions, into the interview process. And they were getting the promotions and being better leaders.
And we have one guy getting his post and just saying like, “Hey, I got promoted. I never, ever would have been able to had I been the guy before I started this program.” And he was that rundown responder. So your service needs more leaders. It doesn’t need dictators. It needs someone who has walked the walk, someone who knows what tools are needed in order to be as strong as you can be through the remainder of your career and home life. And we need to get these suicide rates to come down. So what type of leader do you wanna be? The one who tells others what to do without working on themself?
Or do you wanna be one that your team looks up to because they’ve seen you put in the work and look up to you because of the way that you communicate, carry and take care of yourself and you have the tools that you know work to help your team before things get too far? Where do you wanna be?