Flow-based Leadership: What the Best Firefighters Can Teach You about Leadership and Making Hard Decisions

Flow-based Leadership: What the Best Firefighters Can Teach You about Leadership and Making Hard Decisions

Judith L. Glick-Smith, Ph.D., MentorFactor, Inc.

Firefighters know what it means when they arrive on the scene of a house fire to find a frantic woman in the driveway. There is a child in the house. They immediately enter “the zone,” because they know what to do. This is based on their training and experience. The feeling of being “in the zone,” is referred to in the field of positive psychology as “the flow.”

Think of an activity you love to do where you are working toward clear goals, time has no meaning, and you feel completely in control. This is your flow state. Multiple studies have shown that, if people have the proper training and experience, they will make better decisions in emerging situations if they are in flow. These studies also show that, when people maximize these peak experiences, they are more productive and report a higher sense of well-being. How can your organization help your people experience flow more often, thereby improving their productivity, decision-making, and leadership capabilities?

This presentation describes what flow is and what flow-based decision making and flow-based leadership look like. It also details a flow-based leadership model for implementation, based on an extreme, experiential training program in the fire service called Georgia Smoke Diver (GSD). This model consists of

  • Leading by example
  • Communicating purpose
  • Committing to a stable infrastructure
  • Binding the group through ritual, knowledge sharing, and collaboration
  • Honoring individual creativity to promote innovation
  • Using positive motivation techniques
  • Facilitating team flow

GSD’s success and longevity is a result of rigorous commitment to this model that helps firefighters stay safe, ensure excellence, and live a life of well-being, both personally and professionally. It is a model any organization can adopt to better the lives of the people within the organization and the lives of the people the organization serves.

About the Speaker

Judith (“Judy”) L. Glick-Smith, Ph.D., has been a communication expert, knowledge architect, and organizational development consultant since 1983. She is the founder of MentorFactor, Inc., which focuses on helping organizations prepare for the unexpected by facilitating flow-based work environments. Judy has been studying flow-based decision making and leadership in the fire service since 2007. Her Ph.D. is in Transformative Studies with a concentration in Integral Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She has a Master of Science in Conflict Management from Kennesaw State University. She lives in the Atlanta metro area with her two English Springer Spaniels and near her daughter and two granddaughters.