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?

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?

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.

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.

The Simplest Way to Measure Leader Effectiveness

It is time to stop measuring a leader’s effectiveness by measuring their actions and accomplishments, or lack thereof. For it is not their actions that best represent their success, it is the how their actions affect the behaviors of others. Let’s look at this by assessing police officers and police chiefs.

It goes without saying that a police officer’s job is extremely challenging.  One minute they need to be the utmost representation of professionalism and respect and the next moment they can find themselves fighting for their life with a crack-fueled junkie in a dank, condemned building.  Few professions have the swing of responsibilities that are assigned under the “serve” label of “to protect and serve”.  Difficulties aside however, the job must get done and it must get done right.

Chiefs hold the ultimate responsibility for “getting the job done right”.  Obviously they get the mission accomplished through the members of their department, and for that reason the job of chief can be the most difficult.  They need to develop the members of their department to a degree where service-excellence is a behavioral norm.  It doesn’t matter how technically competent a leader is, the number one job of a leader is influence.

For that reason it is not the leader’s behaviors that are the measure of effectiveness, it is the behavior of front-line officers, detectives, and civilian personnel that reflect the competent leader.

A chief must engage in communication and actions that influence every member of the agency toward ideal front-line behaviors.  So, if behaviors occur by any member of the organization that are outside of the norm of appropriateness, the chief owns it.  Now there will be chiefs who take exception to this thought process and will find ways to shift blame or rationalize how inappropriate front-line behaviors are not their fault.

But the best leaders:

  • understand the real meaning of integrity and consistent behavioral influence
  • engage in an endless process of taking responsibility, setting clear expectations, and proactively inspecting and affecting personnel behaviors
  • know that they must succeed despite less than optimum resources and forces that work against a well-functioning workplace, such as a dysfunctional organizational culture.

It is the lack of direct control that can make the chief’s job so arduous; as is often stated: “if it was easy, everyone could do it”. Clearly, very few earn the right to serve as a chief of police.  And once earned, it is then re-earned every minute of every day. It involves unpleasant work, such as suspending and terminating employees for their inappropriate behaviors, even if the employee is well-liked or a personal friend. It can be a constant uphill battle; but it is remarkably important work and it must be done right so that the ultimate recipients of service receive that level of professionalism that has earned us the right to be called “The Finest”.

The best chiefs take and keep their jobs to engage in ongoing influence for a driving cause; and that is why the simplest way to measure leader effectiveness is to assess the behaviors of the leader’s personnel.

“Hey chief, how’s that mission statement working for you?”

In the years that I have been conducting leadership training for law enforcement, there has rarely been a session where the topic of the police department mission statement has not been raised.  As a matter of fact, my Leading and Influencing for Law Enforcement Supervisors and Managers course begins with attendees having to record their department’s mission statement from memory.  To date, the best response that I have received was when 25% of the supervisors and managers were able to recall most of their mission statement; the worst was when only one attendee out of the 24 could recall their mission.

Alas, the frustration.  A mission statement done right is an excellent tool to enhance decision making consistency.  Stephen R. Covey, in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, recommended engaging all members of the organization in the creation of the mission statement so that it is familiar to all and, more importantly, so that their involvement drives commitment to its attainment.  Yes, that is time consuming, but to have a statement that is unknown or not followed can be even more problematic.

Let’s keep in mind that a mission statement is a core descriptor of your department’s purpose; the reason that your department exists.  Doesn’t it therefore make sense that everyone knows what it says?

So, chief, I am throwing down a simple 3-step challenge:

1.       Right now, without looking it up, write your department’s mission statement.

2.       Next, approach one of your direct-reports and ask them to do the same.

3.       Lastly, contact one of your patrol officers at random (be honest, don’t go to one studying for the sergeant’s exam) and ask them if they can tell you the mission of the department.

That’s it.  If you get three favorable responses, congratulations, you have done a great job reinforcing the purpose and function of your department and you have increased the likelihood of receiving mission-aligned behaviors at the front-line.  If, however, taking the above challenge has identified a weak link, I encourage you to re-emphasize the mission in your formal and informal communication.

When your expectations are clear, understood, and reinforced there will be increased certainty at the front-line.  A well-ingrained mission statement is one powerful step in that direction.