5 Practices to Get Leaders Through an Operational Cycle

There is no doubt that leaders in the emergency management community are in desperate need of downtime, time to unplug, time to be with family and time to reflect on work accomplished for better or for worse. During an operational cycle, hundreds of decisions are made, countless stakeholders tended to, team members calling for direction and so much more. How do great leaders survive aside from passion, commitment, and the desire to help others in time of need?



Here is a list of the top 5 best practices that great leaders have shared with us to help guide their teams and stakeholders through successful deployment and to avoid burning out along the way. This list is practiced in no particular order. However, it is important to note that keeping a journal of what best practices you employ and when will no doubt drive your leadership abilities higher than what you might have expected.


1. Prioritize

Great leaders are diligent about setting aside time at the start of their day to prioritize the needs of the deployment. This is done in such a manner that over the course of an operational period if you were to observe a leader, they have already rehearsed their dance steps. Prioritization needs to consider the following:

  1. Balancing the important with the immediate

  2. It considers the delegation of work to the right stakeholders to give a leader more time to engage in the strategic aspects of the operational cycle

  3. Prioritization is not viewed at a task level but established along the lines of strategic, political, and cultural aspects of the work to be accomplished


2. Lead Change

Leaders who are painfully aware that they are leading change are well-positioned to drive quantitative results. Results that not only demonstrate their capability to lead in fluid situations but that are also in tune with all stakeholders that are participating in the drive to change a situation into a safe resolution. Change-focused leaders never lose sight of the overall objectives and are quick to point this out at every meeting. Some even do so at the beginning of the meeting to remind the collective whole why they are there.

Great change leaders practice the constant evaluation of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This short workshop-like exercise can be done at the beginning of every operational cycle to make clear what the day's priorities, tasks and activities might hold. Effectively this exercise is facilitated by a leader and not led by the leader. The difference is fundamental to allowing a team to take ownership and be accountable for actions over the course of an operational period. 3. Conduct Effective Meetings

This topic is no doubt a sore point with many leaders who have spent countless hours in meetings and have come out with little to no action items of meaningful value. Here are a few things that can be done to improve the overall effectiveness of meetings, which ultimately should serve as a vehicle for decision-making and action.

  • Keep agenda items razor-sharp, the more agenda items you have the less likely you’ll be able to address them, more meetings with a focused group of stakeholders is likely in order

  • Be clear on the intended outcome(s) of the meeting

  • Ask if meeting objectives have been met

  • Validate outcomes of meeting and action items

  • Be deliberate in the messages you intend to deliver

  • If you are not conducting the meeting and no agenda or desired outcomes are stated, speak up and ask that these be outlined before the conversations begin

4. Giving and Receiving Feedback


Great leaders have shared with us “a little goes a long way”. Encouragement and acknowledgement of tasks completed, and meetings well conducted, in a public setting is a key ingredient of a team's overall commitment in driving towards a shared vision. Encourage the solicitation of feedback from all team members including yourself. Form a habit whereby at every opportunity, activity, meetings, team sentiment, and stakeholder voices are heard. Consider...

  • How effective are we?

  • What do we keep doing, stop doing and start doing?

  • What does the +/- column look like and how do we increase the +’s?


5. Situational Awareness


Great leaders are fined tuned to situational awareness in an enormous capacity. They demonstrate empathy, social awareness, cultural awareness, self-awareness and are present and in the moment. What does this mean? Every stakeholder matters to them, and every situation is evaluated, considered, and listened to with intention. Listening with intention allows leaders to dial into a stakeholder’s feelings and understand what they are going through and acknowledge it. Social awareness comes in the form of making eye contact, welcoming added resources, and being the consummate host. Cultural awareness dictates that a leader is respectful of all stakeholders’ cultural ways and acknowledges them and where appropriate practices them. Self-awareness drives leaders to frequently take time out to reflect on how they are personally doing, which in turn allows leaders to arrive at every new situation with a fresh and positive approach.


While the list of tools, characteristics and training is long and varied, the 5 practices cited above can certainly elevate a good leader to a great leader. Neuroplasticity simply stated scientifically proves that the brain is always ready, willing, and able to learn new things, the catch is that we must make these practices a habit and part of our repertoire.

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