Reflecting on the past…and looking ahead

Finest’s recently celebrated its seventh anniversary. Looking back it’s been an amazing ride. Coaching and training the next generation of law enforcement leaders has proven to be an intrinsically rewarding experience for me.

Why?

On one hand, I have been able to share the what I learned the hard way  in my various leadership positions over the two decades I spent on the force. On the other hand, whether it’s teaching a workshop somewhere on the East Coast or conducting a 1-1 coaching session via SKYPE, I’ve learned a great deal from all of you with whom I have worked. Simply put, you truly are “The Finest”.

As I look ahead, I am very excited about what the future holds for Finest’s. Of course, as I often preach, you can’t be complacent, and this blog is no different. I’ll be taking a little time off from this section of the website to refine its focus area and most importantly, provide content that is meaningful and valuable to you!

Until then, please feel free to contact me at bill.reilly@finests.com. I welcome your thoughts and ideas on the future of this blog.

Cheers,

Bill

 

Where Are We Going?

Those who know me know that I am big on “the vision thing” as the first President Bush called it.  Simply put, leading is a verb that implies a destination.  The vision is that destination.  For the entirety of my professional law enforcement involvement, one thing has always been clear, we were moving toward greater professionalism.

That is not to say that I have been in favor of all of the advancements. I remain concerned that department-installed video surveillance may cause an officer to be reluctant to react appropriately, but at least the progress and counter-argument of accountability made sense from an “advancing professionalism” perspective.

What now concerns me is the political and/or administrative decision to replace police chiefs with individuals who do not meet the necessary criteria to take law enforcement action.  I know that money is tight and I understand the argument that there are talented administrators that can run a complicated agency; I just don’t see that this is moving us toward greater professionalism.

Many will say that the head of the agency does not do police work, so they do not need to be sworn.  I say that it is not a bad idea for the head of the agency to do police work.  While I was not the agency head (I retired as an assistant chief of a 400+ sworn agency), the final of my 800+ career arrests was a motor vehicle / controlled substance arrest made at gunpoint as an assistant chief, in uniform and on patrol, the week of my retirement.  Now, not everyone believed that I should be doing police work as a sergeant, a lieutenant, a captain, and as an assistant chief; but I have touted at every rank that I have held, that no matter how high you rise in an agency, you still retain your oath, your shield, and your gun.

That is, of course, unless you are a civilian.

Back on point, I may be wrong on this idea of replacing police chiefs with non-sworn directors. But in all fairness, someone needs to truthfully explain the “greater-professionalism-vision,” not cost-savings, that this change will bring before you start to get me to buy in.

Any takers?

‘Never Give Up’ Leadership Mentality ‘Trumps’ Style

Alright, it’s confession time…I watch the Celebrity Apprentice.  Now to put it in perspective, I don’t DVR it so that I can see a missed episode.  I find Donald Trump to be a very interesting person.  Yes, he is easy to pick on and he is a master of self-promotion, but I find it hard to argue with someone’s success when they have grown their personal wealth into the billions.  When I read his book “Art of the Deal” back in the 1980’s he was a mere multi-millionaire.

So it is the irony of Sunday’s episode – which centered on hair styles and salon products (think Donald uses any of them?) – that I find so striking. While in the boardroom with the teams, Trump announces that his strategy for success has been that “he never gives up.” Apparently, neither does President Obama. After weeks of flirting with the media about a possible run for president in 2012 challenging President Obama’s eligibility to be president, and essentially forcing him to present a document that Hawaii does not normally release, it was Trump who got trumped moments before the infamous words ‘you’re fired’ could be stated.

Gamesmanship (or its appearance) stifles the real message.  Both Trump and Obama are inarguably successful.  What do they both have in common? They do not give up.  That important announcement as you well know by now was the death of Osama bin Laden.  That result happened because of many decisions by leaders based in a ‘never give up’ commitment that led to an incalculable number of courageous activities by our armed forces who unquestionably live by the ‘never give up’ mantra.  As they do every day, they put our safety before their own and came away with a tremendous achievement.

As I write this I do not know if Nene, Hope, or Starr was fired from the show.  And to tell you the truth, I could care less.  That curiosity has been replaced with a reminder of my immeasurable respect and appreciation for those who keep us safe, whether they be military or law enforcement.  The answer to success and how we stay the unquestionable best nation in the world is self-evident: WE NEVER GIVE UP!

Walking Into the Social Media Ocean

I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the ocean.  I love running on the beach and if the ocean temperature is cooperating, I enjoy a brief, comfortable cool-down swim in the ocean at the end of my run; but for the most part I can do without the ocean.  The ocean is inconsistent, each wave is different, you can’t see what you are stepping on, current pockets can cause instant temperature changes, and I am at its mercy.  I hope that it will be kind and for the most part it has delivered, but I am never certain.

Now, onto social media; to properly date myself, the social media that I grew up with was the CB radio.  I was able to receive the communication of many and send communication to intended and unintended recipients.  The beauty of this was the temporary nature of the communication.  Mistakes were quickly forgotten, for they were not preserved for eternity.  And while I believe my maturation with technology has kept stride, it is the norms of social media that give me pause.

So here I am, a subscriber and contributor to LinkedIn, Twitter, and once again, Facebook (from which I took a hiatus).  I am figuring out what so many already know, people want to interact and not just receive.  To the dismay of the two law enforcement periodicals in which I have been placing print ads; sorry, that will be coming to an end. To the advantage of those of you who are reading this blog, you are welcome to not just receive my message, but also to challenge me and engage me. I have been teaching courses to cops for 20 years now and I love being challenged on the core of my message.  I unquestionably believe that which I teach and will defend the validity of my leadership strategies to the end.  Any takers?

So, I guess that is where the real leadership lessons have taken place for me.  As a leader, I need to know where people are and how best to deliver a message that will be received and processed as intended.  If I don’t get to that point, there is no way that I am going to be able to follow the core of the military definition of leadership, which is “to influence others to accomplish the mission.”

So, I’ve stepped in, I can’t see the bottom, but I know that I have to have more that a “brief cool down swim” if I am going to help cops lead, influence, and achieve. Now it’s on you, are you willing to not just receive but to also engage?  Comments welcome.

Want to assess your PD’s culture? Leave a message.

During leadership programs that I deliver to police supervisors (corporals to chiefs), the issue of ethics and integrity almost always arises.  When I ask the group to help me define those terms, frequently the response is “doing the right thing when nobody is looking.”  That is of course, a good measure of individual ethics.  However, if nobody is looking, how do we determine the existence of ethical behavior as an organizational culture norm?

A simple answer: voice mail. Voice mail behavior is an excellent measure of a police department’s culture for two reasons:

  • It is “behavior when no one is looking” (since it is almost fully within an officer’s discretion and not monitored by a supervisor)
  • More citizens enter our departments through our phone lines than do in person.

The challenge of course is that many agencies have not defined behavioral expectations as it pertains to voice mail.  Some will say that it should not have to be explained; I offer that when expectations are not explicit, inconsistencies are increased, thus creating an unintended perception problem. Keep in mind the general public’s voice mail expectation is to receive a timely return call, unless the voice mail greeting tells them otherwise.

Culture’s that are responsive to the public have department-wide expectations for voice mail that likely state:

  • Voice mail messages are returned within the same shift or no later than the next shift.
  • If the above is not possible, voice mail greetings should explain when the caller will receive a reply.
  • Officers working outside of normal business hours note that in their voice message (many in the outside world assume that everyone works ‘normal business hours’).
  • If there will be an extended period of time before calls can be returned, an alternate contact should be provided.

So, chief, when it comes to assessing the everyday professionalism as it pertains to your department’s culture, voice mail call-backs will give you a very telling glimpse of how the public sees your department’s culture.

What do you think?

Leader Communication and the “War on Cops”

The chatter since January has been that there is a “war on cops.” Unfortunately, there is no denying that 2011 has been an especially dangerous year for law enforcement officers.  The Officer Down Memorial Page has identified 40 line of duty deaths to date, with 40% of those casualties coming from  adversarial assaults.

It’s times like these that leaders in law enforcement need to be effective communicators. And as I’ve stated before, to be an effective leader requires not only words, but also behaviors.

Some steps that would go a long way now are:

  • Work with facts, not emotions.  A “war on cops” is emotionally charged and portrays the officers as prey.  Focus on the increase in assaults as well as their commonalities from a factual perspective.  Yes, there is a justification for strong concern, but we should be learning from each circumstance and reinforcing the need for vigilance.
  • Have an equipment inspection conducted.  Cops must be provided with tools and equipment that advance officer safety.  Engage in inspections and communication to gauge the current state of equipment and fight hard to send cops out on every tour well-equipped.
  • Keep pushing for training.  I know very well that training funds are lean, but that does not mean that they are non-existent.  Prioritizing training needs and putting training that advances officer safety at the top of the list not only contributes to their preparedness, but it also sends a strong message of support.
  • Listen & encourage.  There is a real concern taking place at the front line.  Law enforcement leaders must be responsive to that concern, which is best achieved by hearing the officers’ perspectives as well as their suggestions.

Let us never forget that each LODD is a life lost in service to others; shattering families, friends, and fellow officers.  Yet, despite these ultimate sacrifices, I haven’t heard of officers giving up.  It is the dedication of the officers that should be overtly appreciated and matched with the support and resolve of law enforcement leaders.  Actions of support for the front line officers must be communicated intentionally and repeatedly when circumstances are difficult.

By managing communication in these times of acute challenges, leaders provide a sense of control in an otherwise uncertain environment and re-orient on the overall mission.

Unpopular Decisions: Out of Bounds?

March Madness is officially upon us.  I’ll be the first to admit I don’t really follow college sports. However, with all the hoopla surrounding the Big Dance, I have been following some of the headlines. Of course, none of them are bigger than the recent incident at BYU where its star men’s basketball player was kicked off the team for violating its honor code.

After reading the article, it got me thinking about the situation and how it relates to leaders in law enforcement. How many times are supervisors and chiefs put in situations where they have to choose between achieving successful results and making decisions that uphold the department’s integrity? And of those times, how many choose the latter over reaching those notable milestones?

Take it from someone who has been in those shoes… it’s a fine line. Yet, in the end, the decision should be nothing short of a “slam dunk.” As a leader, failure to defend your department’s mission statement or code of conduct, damages trust within the community – and your own force. That may be stating the obvious, but sometimes it’s the obvious that’s overlooked.

Whether you agree or disagree with BYU’s decision – which by the way, may or may not cost them a chance at the national championship – you have to respect their willingness to uphold its honor code.  In many ways, they acted as any credible police chief would if faced with a compromising situation involving one of their own.

And in the end, that’s not a foul.

Goal Setting: Does it Really Make a Difference?

Just recently I was giving a half day recertification class to a group of supervisors on leadership and, as I always do, I had the participants set a goal for themselves on what they were seeking to achieve from the class.  I have always believed in goal setting, but it wasn’t until my research in grad school that I realized the power this theory has in the workplace.

Simply put, it recognizes that when done right, goal setting improves job performance and job satisfaction (I have a tough time finding a workplace that cannot benefit from both).  In this class on Motivation and Communication, I encouraged the supervisors to:

  • Select goals with their direct-reports back in the workplace, in order to
  • Affect their behaviors toward the achievement of those goals, and later
  • Inspect for the Outcomes of those behaviors to see if the goal was achieved.

I then worked with them on my S.P.A.R.T.A.™ Achievement Planning Model so that they can see how the process comes together.  It was pretty easy to see that most of the group bought in to the concept, while others will never touch it again. (Don’t you hate when that happens?!).

Anyhow, while on Twitter a few days ago, I saw a posting from the Harvard Business Review website,  entitled “Making Sure Your Employees Succeed.” This post echoed my Select, Affect, Inspect approach and serves as additional proof that this approach works.

So for those of you who sat through my Motivation and Communication class seeking more evidence, or for those of you who prefer multiple sources before you are convinced (let’s face it, cops are naturally suspicious), give it a read and let me know what you think.

Taming the Stress of an Oral Board

Because promotion oral boards are an infrequent experience, and because there is so much on the line in terms of your career, it is not surprising that many candidates find promotion oral boards a high-anxiety event. You can study as much as you want, but other than making you feel more certain about your ability to recall information, it is not likely to address the stress. Fortunately, there are stress-specific steps that you can take to decrease anxiety.

• One of the first steps that you should take is to incorporate self-efficacy enhancing behavior into your preparation. Self efficacy is essentially the belief that we hold regarding our likelihood of succeeding at a given task. If we don’t believe we will be successful we tend to set ourselves up for failure. However, it is also been shown that if we learn in a supportive environment (with others who help us advance rather than hold us back), if we watch others demonstrate tasks successfully, and if we practice the actual tasks on a progressive (increasingly more challenging) pace we tend to start convincing ourselves that we can in fact succeed.

• Another approach is to start working on your breathing. Deep breathing – breathing in which you focus on long, slow deliberate breaths – is repeatedly suggested as a simple relaxation method. The key is to start this behavior weeks in advance of your oral board so that you have conditioned yourself to do it effectively in advance of the stressful event. Then, when you are waiting to be called into the room for your oral board, you can discretely engage in relaxation breathing to calm yourself.

• Lastly, a University of Chicago study was just released that found that “students can combat test anxiety and improve performance by writing about their worries immediately before [an] exam” (source: http://news.uchicago.edu/news.php?asset_id=2210). The study had students write about their anxiety for 10 minutes prior to the exam and found that those who did so had a 5% increase in accuracy as a result. So if you know that you are going to be in a waiting area and you are not prohibited from engaging in writing prior to entering the oral board room, you may benefit from capturing your worries on paper so that you clear your head and allow it to focus on your performance when you enter the room.

Bottom-line, do something. Not doing anything makes you a victim of your own stress. Taking action gives you back control when you need it most.

Leader Development and the Police Training Budget Crisis

Do you think the public has any idea what has happened to police training over the past couple of years?  I hear time and time again that police training budgets have been stripped to the bone.  That mandated training is still occurring, but there is no money for any other training.  It is understandable that chiefs who are trying to fend off layoffs choose undesirable line item cuts as the lesser of two evils; and while this seems to be a justifiable response given the deep budget cutbacks, one has to wonder about the long term effects.

Mandated training varies from state to state (and sometimes department to department), so some officers may be getting everything they need, but those officers are likely the exceptions.  As an example, let’s look at how we are developing the future leaders of law enforcement agencies.  Future leaders should obviously be fully competent at the law enforcement basics before they advance to the next rank, but the core function of a leader is their influence.  It is that influence which allows them to indirectly achieve desired outcomes through actions that are performed by those who report to them. Because most supervisors direct the behaviors of multiple officers, consistent and multiple achievements are resulting from effective supervisors and managers.  Influence, essentially adapting behavioral communication so that others respond as desired, is part art and part skill; either way it must be developed for it to become a competency. Simply put, effective leaders bring a natural efficiency (cost-saving) to the workplace.

So how are we developing the future leaders in the area of leadership skills if we are only permitting mandatory training? More and more, individuals seeking to be promoted seek out coaching or tutoring to develop that which should have been addressed in their agency.  That also means that those who cannot afford this type of development, but who would be a great leader if they could, are at risk of not ascending in the organization.  Additionally, when this type of training is not covered in-house the chief loses control over how the development of these future leaders is taking place.  Certainly there can be benefits when individuals seek opportunities to develop their leader skills; it just seems that all who desire to lead should have an opportunity to compete for those positions on a level playing field.

Short term fixes that have already been put in place cannot be undone, but chiefs should diligently work to assure that those cuts do not become permanent.  At a time when police officers, supervisors, and managers are being asked to do more than ever before and are being held accountable in ways that were unimaginable in the past generation of law enforcement, chiefs must go beyond the mandates and invest in developing future leaders.  We do not advance law enforcement by focusing on budget shortfalls and inadequacies; we do so by creatively solving the challenges that confront us.  And the better we develop our future leaders, the better the leadership talent will be that creatively guides us into the next generation of policing.