Lessons from Bob

B ob Bohlmann, CEM, was known and respected by many in emergency management. In 2016, we lost him to pancreatic cancer. He was my friend and my mentor. I think of him every day and rely on the lessons he taught me with his wisdom and perspective. To truly honor the impact of his mentoring, I must share what he taught me.

1. You are never alone. Bob always ended our calls by reminding me he was there to support me. I cannot call him anymore, but I can call other colleagues and friends for help. Leverage your relationships and connections to help you through your journey. Do not forget that you can also answer the phone for others.

2. Do not be afraid to start with “I don’t know.” Everyone starts at the beginning with limited information. We are all searching for greater knowledge and competence. Recognizing that we have gaps in our knowledge or skills is the first step to improving ourselves.

3. Always look for the history. This was an important lesson for me. Whenever we talked about failures, challenges or potential policy decisions, we discussed the relevant history of that issue and the people involved. Bob also explained appropriate background details about institutional relationships or connections. Dale Carnegie taught us that people will help you achieve your goals, if you help them achieve their goals. Bob Bohlmann taught me to seek out the nuanced details from the past to better achieve all our goals.

4. Keep asking questions. Sometimes we have questions that are not easily answered. Perhaps we are not asking the right person or considering the best angle. In some cases, we are asking questions that make others uncomfortable. Discomfort is good. Discomfort leads us to discoveries about ourselves and our areas of research and practice.

5. Do not forget why you are on your journey. When your journey gets difficult and you are struggling to move forward, think about why you are here. What is your purpose? If you do not know why, maybe you need to think about it. Once you know what it is, write it down.

6. Do not settle. There are times in our lives when we take what is offered because it is easier than putting up a fight to get exactly what we need. We all have those days and those battles. For the most important issues in your life, do not accept what does not meet your most fundamental identity. No one in the world will fight harder for your identity and goals than you. If you need help, see number one.

7. Be kind. Bob was such a gentle man and a gentleman. He taught us that we lose nothing by treating others with kindness and respect.

8. Sometimes people will not like you. This is not easy to hear. However, if we think back, we will remember people whom we did not like. Bob taught me that being respected was more important than being liked. I also have learned that sometimes my dislike is more about me than the other person.

9. Check yourself first. You probably do this already, but just in case, check your biases and prejudices before you assume it is the other person who has a problem. Bob was good at this, and with his example, I learned to find other trusted friends and colleagues who would help me check my biases and prejudices.

10. Be a mentor. This is Bob’s most important lesson. Our profession is only as strong and knowledgeable as we all are. Our failures are important – and by sharing details and lessons, we could prevent others from making the same mistakes. As you consider my suggestions, remember that you are not limited in the number of mentors. Seek out the people who will help you become the stellar person you are meant to become.

This article originally appeared in the IAEM March 2019 Bulletin.

One thought on “Lessons from Bob

  1. Excellent article! Bob was my mentor for a decade and taught me many of these lessons. I am happy that the Massachusetts Maritime Academy EM Academic program has established four awards for graduating students in his honor.
    Captain Russ Webster, USCG, CEM


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