Fired For Being in the Moment – What We Can Learn From a Young Lifeguard

His answer was simple: Thanks, but no thanks.

“They are trying to fix the wrong that they did. On a personal level, I just don’t want to work for that company anymore,” said Tomas Lopez, 21, of Davie, Florida. “It’s not out of spite against the company. I really just want to move on and get another job.

The company began an investigation soon after news of the incident began to spread worldwide.

These were the responses from a group of lifeguards in Florida that were fired when one of them saved a person’s life, and then the others supported his action (and also got fired for doing so). The reason the first lifeguard was fired was because he saw someone out of his zone struggling in the water, his lifeguard instinct kicked in, and away he went.

The gratitude for this was for management is to say “you’re fired!” Management’s reason was that the lifeguard was out of his “zone.” Never mind that he saved someone’s life. That did not matter; he broke the rule, so he’s out.

The reason they were offered their jobs back was that when this news hit the Internet, management relented.

Just shut up and listen sometimes

It was noted that these young lifeguards tried to explain what happened. We have all been frustrated at times, and we know what it is like when you try to get through to someone but they only listen to wait for your pause. Their mind is made up, and no matter what you say, they just don’t listen.

Lifeguard Tomas Lopez was fired for saving someone out of his "zone."

I call these “walk away moments,” when you say “screw this” and just walk away.

The managers, from all news accounts, did not want to hear the explanation; they had basically just turned up the sound. My father’s favorite saying to me and my brothers was, “just shut up and listen — sometimes, you just may learn something.”

If the managers and human resources would have used this tactic with the lifeguards, maybe they would not be in this mess. They have earned a brand badge that shows them as being clueless and knuckleheads. That’s a great epitaph for your brand! — “If you break one rule, you are out — no questions asked.”

Their sensibilities came back to them after all this lifeguard mess went viral. Only then did they see the errors of their ways.

Listening = successful interaction

Listening is one of the most important skills any person can have. Listening has a strong impact on your career, your job, and your relationship with others. Here’s why is listening so important:

Article Continues Below
  • We listen for information;
  • We need to listen to learn;
  • We need to listen to understand;
  • We need to listen to better understand what is expected of us;
  • We need to listen to build rapport;
  • We need to listen to resolve problems with customers, co-workers, and bosses.

I remember reading somewhere that we remember approximately 25 to 50 percent of what we hear. To take that a little further, if we have a 10 minutes conversation, you only heard about half.

Without a doubt, listening is THE skill that everyone benefits from. To communicate, whether in a one-on-one situation or a one-on-too-many, we stand to lose so much. Lots of conflict and misunderstanding can all be attributed to the “Big L.” Not only that, but in the workplace as well as our social lives, we can all be enhanced by using and mastering this simple skill.

Being in the moment

“Being in the moment” is a term that is used quite often, especially in mediation, and it basically means what is going on right here and now. Most of the time, our experiences do not have this moment of total awareness or “being there.”

How many times are we in conversation or just sitting there, and your mind is on an array of things that have absolutely no relevance to what is happening “in the moment?” I call this “runaway thinking” because it leads us into distractions that, for the most part, are not good. Those thoughts can run to fear, anger, happiness, self-pity, etc. You name it, and we have all been there.

Here are some useful ways that I use to get on track and really listen to what is in front of me:

  1. Focus on what is in front of you. It sounds simple enough, but think of the times you are speaking to someone and your mind is elsewhere.
  2. Pick up the vibe from the people who are present. Have you ever met someone and you felt as if you had known them forever? There is this vibe that just allows people to connect. When you engage them, they are totally into the conversation.
  3. See things as for the first time. Act like someone who has never experienced this before. Treat it as a learning event, and that the person you are speaking with is giving you some awesome new insight.

Our lives have evolved into a mind-fest of either spending time in the past or the future. We spend so much time thinking about what was and what could have been. The key to solving this problem is trying to live as much of your life as you can in the only moment that you ever really live in and control — the here and now.

Ladies and gentleman, this moment is right now. The moment that is all there ever was and – probably – will ever be.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


2 Comments on “Fired For Being in the Moment – What We Can Learn From a Young Lifeguard

  1. A very important story but a couple of inaccuracies here.  While some other lifeguards were initially fired for supporting this brave man’s actions, many of them voluntarily resigned in support.  There were all offered their jobs back.

    More importantly, it’s misleading to characterize that this termination was carried out by “Management.”  Sounds like a frightening “Burn Notice” reference.  It was carried out by “a manager.”  And her actions were quickly countermanded by the company.  The owner of the company said “this never should have happened.”

    The company exposed a management flaw here — the termination should not have been possible without a higher level review or approval.  At the same time this more clearly represents a case of a “bad manager” than it does “bad management” overall in the company.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *