First Responder—or Non-Responder?

The concept of “First Responder” evokes powerful images, especially for many American citizens who recall all-too-vividly the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.  For some of us, we’ve also been directly impacted by first responders, those individuals defined as “people who are among those responsible for going immediately to the scene of an accident or emergency to provide assistance.”

The influential and important impact of first responders cannot be denied when it comes to emergency situations, and there are some critical lessons the corporate world could learn from these inspiring men and women.  Indeed, in today’s complex business environment, we are in desperate need of a First Responder mindset within the Corporate Family®.

Think about this concept for a few minutes.  Who in your organization would you describe as a First Responder—not only in times of crises but also in everyday experiences and interactions?  Which individuals are willing to take risks, dive into tasks, and even go above and beyond the call of duty for customers, co-workers, and your company’s business goals?

Sadly, many leaders across the country have shared with LEADon team members how they are dealing with more and more “Non-Responders”—even when it comes to fulfilling rudimentary roles and responsibilities.  These are the kind of employees who basically show up and plug along throughout their day—exhibiting little enthusiasm for their work.

For exceptional leaders, this type of Non-Responder mentality isn’t acceptable—yet what can be done to assist those team members to transform from underachievers to top-notch employees? According to co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon and former Marine Sniper, Jake Wood, this transformation must begin with individual leaders first:  “Preparation—of yourself, of your team, and of your organizational culture—is critical for success through high-stakes situations, business and otherwise” (read more about his insights in Take Command: Lessons in Leadership: How to Be a First Responder in Business).

According to Wood, part of this preparation involves building a “high impact team.”  At LEADon, we couldn’t agree more.  In our book, The Leading Edge, we devote several chapters to the topics of fielding, developing, and maintaining a High Performance Team.  Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you attempt to inspire a First Responder mindset within your Corporate Family®:

  • In order to field a High Performance Team, hire individuals who fit your company’s culture in addition to the technical needs of the role which needs to be filled. Ask specific questions regarding priorities of your culture during the interview process as well as questions about leadership, competence, and commitment.
  • Develop your Emotional Quotient (EQ) as a leader, but don’t forget about the importance of identifying the EQ strengths and weaknesses of your team members too. The Leading Edge has suggestions on how to do this, and we also recommend taking LEADon’s Developing Emotional Competency Questionnaire (DECQ®) and corresponding online coursework at so everyone on the organizational chart can improve their EQ.
  • High Performers/First Responders expend tremendous energy on behalf of others, often without much recognition. To maintain their levels of enthusiasm, create a Culture of Appreciation in your Corporate Family®.  Verbal or written praise go a long way to express gratitude, and even inexpensive gifts not only encourage these action-oriented employees but also those who may need a tangible reminder about why stepping up in your organization can be a worthwhile endeavor.

A recent cross-country flight allowed two LEADon team members to interact with individuals on both ends of the Responder Continuum.  One flight attendant looked bored with the entire boarding process, barely making eye contact or offering assistance until he had to go through the motions of the safety instructions.  Even then, his performance was lackluster.  His colleague, however, radiated enthusiasm with every interaction she had with passengers.  From helping with luggage to hurrying up and down the aisle during beverage service, she strove to ensure each person on the flight had his or her needs met.  Before deplaning, she even handed one of the LEADon team members written instructions on where to find a connecting gate in the large airport terminal.

What a difference the latter employee, an obvious First Responder, made to the entire experience of that flight!  Needless to say, an email was sent to the airline to identify and praise that exemplary employee.

If you need assistance developing more First Responders within your Corporate Family®, please contact LEADon at 858.592.0700 or  We’re happy to share more ideas on how to find these kind of High Performance Team members—and how to keep them thriving in the days ahead.