In their town, deep in the last century, the paramedics and emergency medical technicians that staffed the life squad’s ambulance were volunteers. They were on call for twelve-hour shifts and carried beepers so they could be summoned whatever they were doing.

He was on call and at home when he heard an accident on the corner.

He ran down to see if people needed help and he found a two-car accident. So, he secured the victims as best he could, got some bystanders to put one of the victims in traction, and got others to call the police and life squad and tell them he was on site and needed help.

When the rest of the life squad showed up, they packaged up the victims, safely transported them to the hospital and returned to the life squad building to clean the ambulance and restock it for its next call.

The life squad captain walked in and addressed him.

“I noticed you were on the scene of that accident without your red jacket on.”

“Yes. I was. I had been at home, working in my front yard. I heard the accident and ran straight there to help as quickly as I could. I leave my jacket in my car when I’m on duty.”

“I understand. But you should take the extra time and get your jacket. Its visibility helps keep you safe on site and helps you control the scene.”

“You’re absolutely right. My mistake. Won’t do it again.”

He turned to go back to his work.

Then he stopped.

“How did you notice I was on the scene without my jacket?”

“I drove by.”

“I’m sorry. You drove by the scene of a two-car accident close enough and slowly enough to notice that I wasn’t wearing my jacket? You must have noticed that I was the only one on the scene. I could have used some help.”

Let’s be clear on this, the captain was right to enforce the jacket policy. Her logic made total sense. The issue was that her actions were not in line with the squad’s mission. Every life squad there ever was and ever will be has had and will have a mission of providing emergency medical care.

In an earlier article on the Red Cross’s Charley Shimanski, we looked at his story of people in a restaurant who hear the sound of a significant car accident. As he describes it,

  • Many will go to the window to see what happened.
  • Some will go to the curb to see what happens next.
  • But a small number of those patrons will rush to the accident scene to BE what happens next – helping out however they can to the best of their abilities.

The Red Cross are second responders. They support first responders and victims. Life Squads are first responders. Their mission is to “rush to the accident scene to BE what happens next – helping out however they can to the best of their abilities.”

Implications for you

Not suggesting you have to rush to accident scenes – unless you’re the captain of a life squad. But your actions must match your words and your underlying beliefs if you’re going to have any credibility as a leader.

No one’s going to believe your words, what you say. Talk is cheap.

People will believe what you do.

Pick your cliché. Walk the talk. Practice what you preach. That’s table stakes.

But if your actions match your words without matching your fundamental underlying beliefs, you will slip up and you will get caught.

Be. Do. Say. Starts with “Be.” Make sure you truly believe in your organization’s mission and values. If you do, it’s easy to talk about it. Just say what comes naturally. If you do, let your actions flow from those underlying beliefs.

If you don’t fundamentally believe in your organization’s mission, get out. There may be some short-term benefits to staying for a while. You may be able to learn new things. You may be able to practice new skills. You may get valuable recognition and rewards.

But you can’t be the best leader you can be unless everything about you inspires and enables others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. You’ll drive by accidents until you’re the accident yourself.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #666) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.