By Jon Arnold, Director, Department of Public Safety, Golden West College, Huntington Beach, California
When new recruits embark on a law enforcement career and begin their police academy training, they receive instruction on a variety of topics. These learning domains are designed to equip them in performing their duties and prepare them for the numerous challenges they will encounter in the field. They learn
techniques that help them establish their command presence; develop ways to overcome fear, establish courage, and to properly “communicate” using the radio; and how to effectively communicate with the public and criminal suspects. As peace officers move in their career from line-level into supervision-, management-, and executive- level positions, leaders can be overwhelmed by complex demands including budget restrictions, personnel concerns, meetings with community groups, and other large-scale projects. While these tasks are important, leaders may forget that those topics that were so critical to learn as rookies may still have a significant impact on their performance as leaders of their organizations.
At a recent swearing-in ceremony of a new officer at a neighboring agency the chief of police included comments in his opening remarks about how important the “five Cs” are to his department. They included the following:
He commented on the importance of each trait as the rookie officer was embarking upon a new and very challenging career. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the brief mention of these traits resonated not only because they are critical to a law enforcement officer but also because each can be difficult to fully embrace as officers advance through their careers. Police chiefs who have been married for a number of years have seen how the daily challenges of children, school activities, housework, the mortgage, bills, and other issues have impacted their interaction with their spouses. While important, these issues can interfere with the level of commitment and communication displayed early in their marriage. Similar to a long-standing marriage, the chief’s priorities may change over time as higher-level projects may interfere with their recollection of the import of these earlier priorities.
When new police officers begin their careers, they see “courage” simply as the ability to chase a suspect down a dark alley at 2:00 a.m. and not be afraid. New officers view this trait as a fundamental requirement of police work and assume all recruits possess courage or they would not have chosen this profession. As officers progress in their careers, courage has additional meanings—including the ability to make correct and ethical decisions when confronted with an issue. When officers later attain rank and are responsible for others, courage also means dealing properly with those they supervise. This can include supporting those when they behave appropriately but also includes ensuring proper performance and discipline of those who commit misconduct. Dealing with these issues is not easy and requires leaders to incorporate this type of courage as a core principle.
Character is a set of qualities that makes somebody or something distinctive, especially somebody’s qualities of mind and feeling. According to Michael Josephson, “character is a morally neutral term describing the nature of a person in terms of major qualities. So everyone, from iconic scoundrels like Hitler and saints like Mother Teresa, have a character.”1 When thinking of character as it relates to police work, individuals are normally viewed as having character traits that others can count on or are positive traits that they would want in a colleague or leader. These are the types of traits mentioned when others are described as a solid performer, a great cop, a good sergeant, a great chief, and so forth.
Character is something that has to be developed and earned over a long period of time. In the Bible, Romans 5:3- 4 states, “Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character, hope.” As it reads, one develops character after enduring some type of prolonged adversity, which then produces true character. Character is the type of trait that can result from how one handles adversity. Some encounter adversity through a crisis or conflict, by being injured or offended, or even through some emotional or physical pain. Character is developed in how one responds to these events or challenges. The common quote that “character is forged on the anvil of adversity” is accurate as one does not develop a strong character from avoiding difficult issues. Sometimes the easier path is not the one that results in character building. A portion of the United States Military Academy Cadet Prayer states, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”2 When adversity strikes, those who possess the proper character will make the right and ethical decision or will lead the agency in the proper direction in the face of a crisis.
The character of a police chief can permeate the organization. A chief with solid and upstanding character traits can be seen by the department members as one who always considers what is best for the community and the agency. The decisions made are always for the right reason and can stand up to any subsequent review. When a crisis occurs, he or she is out in front of the issue and leading the department in the proper direction. Similarly if a chief lacks character, the organization will wonder what will happen when a crisis or difficult situation occurs and what lasting ramifications might linger. Good character can take years to develop but, like a reputation, can be ruined in a hurry. According to the late UCLA Coach John Wooden, “The true test of a man’s [or woman’s] character is what he [or she] does when no one is watching.”3 Character is a trait that everyone strives to attain, but, just like good leadership, it cannot be simply learned from a book or obtained by attending a training course on the topic.
Commitment is a pledge that is made by one party to another—normally in exchange for something. Husbands and wives make a lifelong commitment to each other. Friends will commit to each other, or strangers make commitments in business or sales situations. A police officer makes a commitment to the department; the community; and, through the oath of office, to the constitution of their state and the U.S. Constitution. As one progresses up through the ranks, there are more people and groups that one must commit to serve. Police chiefs have to be fully committed to serve their departments and communities. Their commitment includes hiring and promoting the best individuals they can find. The level of commitment they give will continue past the time they serve on the department. Their selection of department members and who they promote will continue to lead the department after they retire and will continue to serve the community in the way they influenced it.
Author John C. Maxwell has written and lectured on leadership. In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, one of the most overlooked laws is the law of legacy. As chiefs, they must know the legacy they want to leave and be very intentional on that legacy. What will the chief be remembered for? That is the question. People will not remember what the chief said he or she wanted to do, but they will remember what the chief actually did. The focus should be on the things that chiefs are passionate about and what they act on. These are the actions by which they will be remembered—and, then, they must choose who will carry on that legacy. The best way to leave a legacy is to create it, so their impact and influence on the department will continue on after they retire.
Compassion can be defined as sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. In police work, police officers will see much suffering and encounter many who are facing misfortune. One of the challenges is to train new officers in a manner so they do not lose the ability to have compassion for others. Many new officers become hardened to the misfortune of others simply as a defense mechanism to avoid the stress of coping. By becoming “hard” in these situations, the officers lose the desire to alleviate the suffering. In an effort to care about the community they serve, officers need to be able to feel this emotion at the correct time. Leaders need to emphasize this ability and avoid the old-school concept of simply “hook ’em and book ’em.” The concept of community policing has been around for so long that many officers have never worked without this concept. Still, the stress and effects of the job can harden even the most caring officers. Officers are always ready to receive training on the latest officer-safety tactics, firearms instruction, or investigative techniques—but rarely do they give much thought to maintaining awareness of their emotional health. It is incumbent upon leaders to maintain focus on this issue.
Actor Strother Martin’s line in the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”4 is a comment police chiefs do not want to hear being applied to them. Communication is a critical function but a difficult concept at which to become an expert. Too many times people think of communication as simply a method of imparting a thought or direction to others. One of the most critical, but often overlooked, parts of communication is listening. Just watch the old routine by Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First?” and it’s easy to see why proper listening is so important.
Communication is not simply telling others what they need to do. Effective communication requires that a chief clearly states his or her mission to the organization. Then steps must be taken to ensure that the instructions or directions were clearly understood. Were the necessary tools or procedures provided? Inspect the work to see if the task is being performed properly. Lastly, proper feedback, additional resources, clarifying directions, or anything else that is required must be given. Often, the troops comment, “the chief (or captain, lieutenant, sergeant) never stops by or listens to us.” Communicating with every member of a department can be a daunting task especially for the larger agencies. Yet, this is still important, and steps can be taken to develop a number of communication methods to stay in touch.
As pointed out in “A Fighter Pilot’s Guide to Effective Communication” by Lieutenant Colonel Rob “Waldo” Waldman, the following methods can result in very positive results:
1. Have a mass briefing at least once a month. Gather your troops and communicate the latest trends, organizational goals, equipment upgrades, etc. Your wingmen need to hear important news—whether good or bad—from you first. This is also a great time to publicly recognize your top performers.
2. Conduct feedback sessions on a regular basis. Sit down with your wingmen [staff] and let them know how they are doing. Are they meeting your expectations? Ask them about their goals and challenges and how you can help. Then solicit feedback on you as a leader. What would they like to see from you? Avoid letting your ego get in the way of their feedback.
3. Walk the flight line [your station or police facility]. Get your hands dirty with your wingmen [staff].
Spend time with them on the job and observe how they do business. Ask questions. Show them your appreciation by connecting with them as people first and employees second.
4. Debrief your missions. Remove your “rank” and conduct a nameless, blameless, and rank-less debrief after every critical mission. Find out if objectives were met, and analyze why they weren’t. Search for trends and communicate these to the rest of your organization.5
While these suggestions are directed at a group of aviators who participate in various flight missions, they still hold true for police chiefs. The old adage is still accurate that “you don’t get what you expect but what you inspect!” By personally visiting all elements of the department and speaking with employees at all levels, chiefs can gain a better understanding of what is really happening and convey the message that they do indeed care about agency personnel.
A 2011 poll conducted by Maritz Research on employee trust in management reported that 25 percent of the employees had less trust in management than they did the previous year. The study showed that only 10 percent of employees trust management to make the right decision in times of uncertainty.6 A 2004 study by the Society for Human Resource Management “Employee Trust and Organizational Loyalty,” showed that only 27 percent of the employees agree that their organization’s leadership is ethical.7 In Leigh Branham’s book The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, he lists reason number 7 as “There is a loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.”8 These studies indicate that leaders are not doing all that they can to demonstrate ethical leadership or that they cannot be trusted to make the proper decisions. Trust must be earned and maintained by leaders through proper example and continual dialogue with their employees. Support and trust by the members of the department can take many years to develop but can be quickly eroded by a lack of communication.
Jim Trinka, Chief Learning Officer for the FBI conducted a study of manager-employee surveys in government and industry. He stated that managers have a much better chance of vastly improving their leadership effectiveness by targeting their development efforts on a much smaller list of leadership competencies. For example, by focusing on improving the behaviors associated with the “Developing Others” and “Communication” competencies, managers can increase overall leadership effectiveness scores by 50-60 percent.9 The associated behaviors of these two competencies relating to employee development and performance management are creating an environment and strategy to support continuous on-the-job learning and strategically using communication to produce enthusiasm and foster an atmosphere of open exchange and support.
Robert Hosking, executive director of Office Team, states that “the most successful bosses excel at motivating others to achieve great results.” Further, Office Team identified the following seven traits potential leaders must have:
1. Integrity. The best managers foster trust among employees by placing ethics first.
2. Sound judgment. Top leaders can be counted on to make tough decisions based on logic and rationale.
3. Diplomacy. Handling challenging situations with tact and discretion is a must. Effective managers don’t take all the credit for results—they consistently acknowledge individual and team contributions.
4. Adaptability. It’s essential that leaders be able to think on their feet. They should be innovative while also encouraging team members to develop creative solutions.
5. Strong communication. To motivate and guide employees, influential managers freely share their vision with others.
6. Good listening skills. Successful bosses realize they don’t have all the answers and seek input from colleagues.
7. Influence. Great managers build strong networks within the organization to gain support for their ideas.10
The challenges for police chiefs are many and the list continues to grow. To be successful, today’s law enforcement leaders must have the courage to choose the right path and to make the tough decisions. They must possess the type of character that has been developed over time by dealing with difficult situations head-on and making the correct choices. They must make the commitment to the organization and the community to spend the time and energy to meet their needs and effect proper change. Leaders must possess true compassion and desire to steer their departments in the proper direction to achieve organizational needs. Leaders can accomplish these tasks by using proper communication methods to state their mission, determine if their message was properly understood, and provide further guidance and feedback to ensure effectiveness.
1-Michael Josephson, “What Will Matter,” blog, November 28, 2011, in Commentaries: The Nature of Character (Josephson Institute), http://whatwillmatter.com/2011/11/commentary-what-is-character-751-2 (accessed September 18, 2013).
2-Cadet Prayer, United States Military Academy–West Point, http://www.usma.edu/chaplain/SitePages/Cadet%20Prayer.aspx (accessed September 18, 2013).
3-Walter Pavlo, “Character Is What You Do When EVERYONE Is Watching,” Forbes (October 23, 2013), http://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2012/10/23/character-is-what-you-do-when-everyone-is-watching (accessed September 18, 2013).
4-Donn Pearce and Frank R. Pierson, Cool Hand Luke (Jalem Productions, Warner Brothers, 1967), moving image, 126 min.
5-Rob “Waldo” Waldman, “A Fighter Pilot’s Guide to Effective Communication,” blog, Harvard Business Review, October 26, 2010, http://blogs.hbr.org/2010/10/a-fighter-pilots-guide-to-effe (accessed September 18, 2013).
6-Employee Engagement Poll (Maritz Research, June 2011), http://www.maritzresearch.com/~/media/Files/MaritzDotCom/White%20Papers/ExcecutiveSummary_Research.pdf (accessed September 18, 2013).
7-Mary Elizabeth Burke and Jessica Collison, Employee Trust and Organizational Loyalty Poll Findings (Alexandria, VA: Society for Human Resource Management, Aug. 2004), 7.
8-Leigh Branham, The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act before It’s too Late (New York: AMACOM, 2012).
9-Jim Trinka, What’s a Manager to Do? http://govleaders.org/whats_a_manager_to_do_print.htm (accessed Sept. 18, 2013).
10-OfficeTeam, “Keep the Corner Office: OfficeTeam Survey: Most Workers Don’t Want Their Boss’s Job,” press release, October 10, 2011, http://officeteam.rhi.mediaroom.com/bossday (accessed September 18, 2013).