‘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!

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.

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.

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.