When I was younger, I learned lifesaving skills which quaified me to be a lifeguard at the local swimming pool.  However, thats not why I took the classes as I was more interested in improving my swimming capabilities and being able to be of use if anything untoward happened when I was canoeing or taking part in any water-related sports.

Part of the training involved being faced with a scenario at the poolside where maybe there was one person bobbing up and down in the water and waving their arms; another with their head in the water who was very quiet, and some equipment (e.g. rope or ball) lying by the pool.  You had to decide at a moment’s notice, how you would tackle the situation and what aid you might use (like the rope) to help you rescue those in need.

We had learned that there was a specific order of actions that should be taken, so that you don’t put your own life in danger whilst trying to rescue others.  The list in order of priority was:

  1. Reach
  2. Throw
  3. Wade
  4. Row
  5. Swim with an Aid
  6. Swim and Tow

This gives four options that should be considered before you dive in to swim and try to perform a rescue. Even with the fifth action (swim with an aid) it means that you remain “hands-off” and use your aid (rope, ball, jumper) to pull the person back to the side,  This is because there can be unforeseen implications if you jump in and then realise that you have no way of exiting, or you have nothing to use as an aid with you, or you may not have tested the depth of the water etc.

It made me think about leadership, and how some leaders can behave in a similar way.  When a member of their staff comes to them with a problem, they want to solve it for the employee, or tell them what to do. What then happens is their staff don’t think for themselves, and become reliant on the leader.  Then of course, the leader complains that they are literally drowning because they have so much work to do.

How can you be an effective lifesaver as a leader?

A.  Fully assess the situation before jumping in.  Ask the employee what options they have considered and what they recommend as a course of action – which leaves the responsibility with the employee.

B. Look around at the resources you have available.  Who else could help with this? Does it have to be you?  Could your member of staff speak to someone else to find the solution?  There may be other ways that they could find the answer.

C. Help  them – but at arms length.  If you find that you have to help the, make sure you stay at arms length.  It’s important to show empathy which helps them acknowledge that you recognise the emotions they are experiencing,  But then encourage them after the incident to reflect on how they might handle such a situation in the future. What have they learned from it?  This will help them to recognise how they can build resilience.

D. Be there for them when they really need help.  Sometimes you as the leader just need to step in and take charge or make a decision.  So when you know that its one of those moments, be decisive and step up to the plate.  Deliver for your employees and they will respect you that you are a true leader when the chips are down.

Lifesaving is all about judgement, and using thinking before action.   Learn to be a great lifesaver as a leader.