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Leadership Lessons from a New York 911 Center Commissioner

Meet Commissioner Julie Corn, the director of the New York Onondaga County Department of Emergency Communications 911 Center. Corn is responsible for ensuring her 911 center serves as the critical link between the citizens of Onondaga County and the public safety agencies that serve them: the police, fire department and EMS.

Reflecting on her first year as Commissioner, Corn shared with me four leadership lessons she has learned.

Lesson 1: Utilize emotional intelligence in your workforce communications

There are undoubtedly unique challenges when it comes to managing a workforce that provides 24/7 coverage. Being able to deliver information in person to the entire workforce is certainly one of those challenges for Corn. Since Corn can’t always communicate to her workforce in person, she utilizes periodic emails to keep her staff updated.

Corn thinks about what employees need to hear from her especially during stressful periods of time. Her employees have expressed gratitude, not only for keeping them in the loop and remaining transparent on key initiatives, but for seeing how those initiatives impact them. Corn believes strongly that employees should see where they fit into the bigger picture and when you can connect them; that’s a win for the individual and the organization.

Lesson 2: Make employee recognition meaningful

Employees in the 911 Center receive letters of recognition due to outstanding service. Corn wanted to be part of these moments and make people feel special. She made it her mission to award employees in person, even when it didn’t conveniently fit within normal working hours.

To illustrate, Corn presented one of her dispatchers with a letter of recognition due to his superior service that saved someone’s life. She mentioned that one evening she headed back into the 911 center to present him with the award. He lit up when she gave him the letter in person and followed it up with a spirited elbow fist bump. Out of curiosity, I asked what time she had gone in to catch him during his shift. Corn shrugged her shoulders a little and modestly replied, “It was probably a few minutes after midnight.” I was in awe of this special moment she created for this dispatcher. She didn’t see it as going above and beyond. She just knew it was important.

Lesson 3: Show your people that you trust them

Trust in one another is critical, especially in tense environments like a 911 Center. Trust must be established so that each person can confidently perform their responsibilities during life or death situations. Without trust, this system would fall apart quickly. Corn recognizes the vital role that trust plays in a 911 center, so she constantly looks for ways to foster it. She learned that taking a more hands-off approach would allow her people to see that she trusts them to make the right decisions.

For example, I asked Corn if she gets called into the office a lot during the nights and weekends to handle crisis situations. I assumed her answer would be yes, so I was surprised when she said, “No, not really.” I asked her why this was. Her response was powerful: “I trust my people to make the right decisions.”

Corn sets the expectation for her employees to keep her informed and to know when the decisions need to come from her. The fact that she does not demand to be involved or present for every decision shows that she places a lot of trust in her people. Most importantly, it empowers her staff to succeed.

Lesson 4: Make time for direct engagements with all employees

Corn initiated bi-monthly, one-on-one sessions with each of her senior supervisors. Finding this time in her demanding schedule wasn’t always easy, but she knew it was worth it. She even took these sessions a step farther and opened them up to all 150 of her employees. These engagements now serve as a direct line of communication between herself and her workforce.

Corn recognizes that not everyone is comfortable meeting with the commissioner, so she balances that interaction by managing by walking around. However, Corn is appreciative of those who welcome the chance to engage one-on-one. She enjoys getting to know her employees on a deeper level and offers them an opportunity to share feedback; this is yet another way Corn fosters trust. These one-on-one moments are some of Corn’s most rewarding. Not only is she learning about the incredible diversity of thoughts and backgrounds among her staff, she is learning how to use that knowledge to make her organization stronger.


During the interview, I was inspired to learn exactly how Julie Corn manages the vital responsibilities of a 911 center. The lessons she graciously shared from her first year as commissioner are extremely valuable, meaningful and helpful for all leaders.

Tessie Davenport has served as a leader in the Department of Defense for the past ten years. Her breadth of experience includes creating successful teams, coaching, mentoring and leading development programs. She has a B.A.S. in Information and Computer Security, a M.S. in Intelligence Management and is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Organizational Management. She hopes to inspire new leaders and experienced ones by offering practical ideas to help them build positive cultures and grow their people. Tessie is happily married with three dogs and a cat. She loves to travel, hike, kayak, and explore.

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