Judith L. Glick-Smith (2016). Flow-Based Leadership: What the best firefighters can teach you about leadership and making hard decisions. Technics Publishers.
Flow-Based Leadership: What the Best Firefighters Can Teach You About Leadership and Making Hard Decisions is about the leadership in the world of firefighting. These individuals have split seconds in which to make life-altering decisions for those they are saving, those they are protecting, and for themselves. Split second decisions can be harrowing at best as you reflect upon did I do the right thing in that situation or would/could I have done something different.
This book provides personal stories from firefighters on how they handled situations where at the time they were not sure it was the right one. The world today is full of evil that imperils us all. The good outshines the bad many times, yet Glick-Smith talks “on how to lead and manage this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world of ours” (p. 9). VUCA is the life of a firefighter or anyone who is in a position of immediate danger, needs to make decisions quickly that affect more than themselves, and that protect the safety of us all. Globally VUCA requires adapting approaches and leadership to develop and communicate a clear vision, known as VUCA-Prime.
Flow-based leadership means knowing how your team operates, how each person contributes, and how those contributions make you and the team successful. We no longer want to work like automatons, but “will” work heads-down on a task we enjoy until it’s done. We do this like we are “in the flow” and “enjoy the experience of getting it [the task] done” (p. 136).
Flow-based leadership is seeing an organization operating with a purpose and communicating that purpose to its members by facilitating alignment between the members and the organization’s stated goals by serving those in the organization with “standardized processes, a solid infrastructure, and a commitment to training to promote flow-based decision making” (p. 15). Being in the “flow” is knowing that based upon that particular situation, you are making the right decision to do the right thing for the right reasons, based on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research on “flow” itself. To consciously initiate ourselves into a flow state requires having these five flow mechanisms in place: knowing what our own flow triggers are, being prepared, being physically ready, having mental alignment, and believing in a spiritual connection. For those reading this review, spiritual connection is important because there is always “that little voice” that leads you to the decisions you make, whether right, wrong, or indifferent.
Glick-Smith recommends “mentally walk[ing] around to Charlie side [as you size up an incident], that is, to the side that you can’t normally see, and take a look at your world from a different angle” (pp. 13–14). Imagine what we can learn about ourselves if we do this. Upon reflection after all has settled down, you may decide that wasn’t the best thing to have done, yet if you were to encounter that situation again, you probably would do the same thing. This is how firefighters lead their lives every day. Often times, the situations they or any law enforcement officials are encountering or walking into has a large world of unknowns. Flow leadership is the basis for which they make their decisions and stand by the outcome of those decisions.
The triggers of flow are recognizing something that is out of the ordinary, a threat to their own personal or team safety, or involves a child. Glick-Smith offers snippets of conversations she has had with firefighters that are poignant reflections and show that the firefighters, while knowing they did the right thing at the time, often do question if they could have done something better. The worst for them is to lose anyone: human or family pet. They do their best to assess situations and do what they have been trained to do, yet there are those times when what they “have” to do is to “not” save a life because it is too dangerous to them and to others.
Overall, Flow-Based Leadership is highly recommended for anyone in a leadership position or just wanting to improve upon their personal leadership skills. While the subject of the book is towards the firefighters and their valiant efforts in doing what they do, the stories alone will make you reconsider just how much they put their lives on the line for you every day. Glick-Smith has proven that her ability to look inside of this profession with a different lens lets the layman see that firefighters are just as human as we are. Their decisions, while split second, are made on our behalf and theirs.
About the Author
Dr. Jackie Damrau has more than 25 years of technical communication experience. She is an STC Fellow and serves as the book review editor for the Technical Communication journal. Jackie has a Doctorate in Business Administration and is a certified BPMN professional working as a senior business systems analyst for a global commercial real estate company.