Technics Publications

Flow-based Leadership

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Flow-based Leadership: What the Best Firefighters can Teach You about Leadership and Making Hard Decisions, by Judith (“Judy”) L. Glick-Smith, Ph.D.

Have you ever arrived on the scene of a house fire to find a frantic woman in the driveway? As a firefighter, you know instinctively what this means: there is a child inside. You immediately enter “the zone,” because you know what to do. This is based on your training and experience. The feeling of being “in the zone,” is referred to in the field of positive psychology as “the flow.”



Setting the context
It’s a vuca world
Required cultural challenges
Who this book is for
What this book is about
How this book is organized

1 What flow is

Beginnings of flow theory
Characteristics of flow
Clear goals and feedback
Opportunities for decisive action
Awareness and action merge
Focus on the task at hand
Confidence: the feeling of being in control
Losing sense of self
Temporal distortion
Autotelic experience

2 Initiating flow (or not)

Preconditions of flow
Triggers of flow
Something out of the ordinary
Threat to personal safety
Child involvement
Consciously initiating flow
Knowledge of our own triggers
Physical readiness
Mental alignment
Spiritual connection
When flow doesn’t happen

3 Flow-based decision making

Importance of training and experience
Tunnel vision vs. Hyper-vision
Commitment to learning
How flow enhances decision making
Size-up: creative suspension of choice
The action/inaction continuum
Decision making models
Mitigating the effects of stress
Situation awareness
System 1 and system 2 thinking
My own lesson in situation awareness

4 Flow-based leadership

Leadership styles
Example of an event not constrained by time
Time-constrained events
Worcester cold storage warehouse fire
About the worcester fire department
Incident description
Tie-in to leadership
Kyle wilson story
Michos’ role in wilson lodd
Flow-based leadership empowers others

5 Georgia smoke diver model

Leadership structure
Smoke daddy designation
Course content
Spreading the good word
Indiana smoke diver program
Oklahoma smoke diver program
Model for creating flow-based organizations

6 Creating flow-based organizations

Lead by example
Leadership styles and conflict management
On being a leader of equals
Taking personal responsibility
Honoring those who came before
Communicate the mission and the vision
Communication in emerging incidents
Communication with the self
Team communication
Commit to a stable infrastructure
Infrastructure components
Physical assets
Monitoring progress
Attention to process
Knowledge management
Bind the group
Knowledge sharing and storytelling
Role of laughter
Power of collaboration
What’s your number?
Honor individual creativity to promote innovation
Use positive motivation techniques
Mo squad
Motivation strategies
Visual and physical motivation
Shift to positive motivation
Motivation for those who don’t make it
Facilitate team flow

Multiple studies have shown that, if people have the proper training and experience, they will make better decisions in emerging situations while in a flow-state. How can your organization help your people experience flow more often, thereby improving their decision-making?

This book 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.

Whether you’re in the fire service or not, this book provides incredible and truly unique insights into leadership, decision making, and creating exceptionally effective organizational cultures. A must read for anyone who is in a position where his or her decisions impact the work and the lives of others. Judith’s writing ignites the imagination with stories that are inspiring, engaging, and deeply moving. You will walk away with a new appreciation for the importance of being “in the flow” and a simple but powerful framework for creating a meaningful and purpose-driven life.
Thomas Koulopoulos
Chairman Delphi Group, Author The Gen Z Effect

Dr. Judy (as she is fondly known in the fire service) has presented us with a uniquely insightful look at firefighter decision making, going beyond the traditional analytical and weaving the naturalistic with the possible. This is a roadmap for upcoming leaders in any organization in which decisions must be made in chaotic, uncertain and rapidly evolving situations.
David M. Wall, Division Director
Georgia Fire Academy

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege and honor of training with hundreds of high risk professionals. This book gets to the heart of why and more importantly how these individuals can perform at such a high level every day, with on and off the job stresses that are off the charts!
Ed Naggiar, PhD
U.S. Navy SEAL Officer

Podcast with Alise Cortez 

About Judy

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 facilitate 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. You can reach her at


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