The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to share positive leadership tactics with the field of law enforcement. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time by anyone in a law enforcement leadership position. Development of a positive culture must be intentional; otherwise, who knows what will develop in its place.
For demonstrative purposes, I am going to discuss culture as it relates to the position of a sergeant with his/her squad, but these concepts are applicable at any level within an organization. When speaking of culture, I am specifically defining it as the prevailing actions and attitudes that a group demonstrates on a consistent basis. Actions and attitudes are the building blocks of culture and both must be guided in a desired direction.
Here are 4 ways to develop an intentional culture . . .
- Cultural development begins the minute you assume a leadership position. The minute you walk into your first briefing, you are already beginning to develop the culture of the squad. Were you early, late, or right on time? Officers are watching every step you take and are trying to decipher what you like, what you don’t like, what you expect of them, and what they can get away with. You must know within yourself what direction you want to go or a power vacuum will form. The squad is seeking direction and leadership, either you give it to them or someone else will. There is not a minute to waste.
- Your style will teach your officers the culture. To be intentional about your squad’s culture, you must feed them examples of how you picture the culture. This cannot be done from the office. It requires being out on the road with them and demonstrating your style in action so they aren’t having to guess. Contact, communication, and connection between you and your officers is key. While in briefings, encourage your officers to ask “why” so they can better understand your decision-making process. The more they understand, the more the culture will begin to reflect the style you desire.
- What you reward will be repeated. You must reward desired actions and attitudes consistently. When you know within yourself the direction you want your squad to go, you will be able to easily recognize behaviors that deserve rewarding. This needs to be done even more blatantly if the desired behavior is a significant change from how things were prior to your being there. Positive reinforcement is a very powerful tool for a leader, but you must be careful in what you reward because that behavior will be repeated. When giving compliments, specifically define what was good. Instead of just saying something like, “Nice job;” specifically define the action or attitude that you observed. For example, “Nice job, I like the way you kept your cool back there when that guy was yelling at us. You didn’t lose your temper and maintained officer safety without lowering yourself to that level.”
- What you ignore, you condone. When taking over a leadership role, such as a sergeant starting with a new squad, there are always going to be things you see that you don’t necessarily agree with and differ from your desired culture. It is incumbent of you to not ignore them. Ultimately, what you don’t address will be assumed to be acceptable. On the flip-side, you must also be careful not to just bark orders about how you want things done or you’ll very quickly take on the persona of a micromanager. To make your redirections acceptable, you must define why it is important to you and why it should be important to that officer.
Before your can have any effect on the culture of a squad, you have to know what the culture is that you would like to have. If you cannot picture in your head what the perfect squad culture would look like, then how can you lead other people in that direction? Take the time to write out your thoughts and think about what has or has not worked in your previous assignments. What qualities made up the best squad/unit you have been a part of? This is your squad’s culture, be intentional about it!
What do you do at you department to be intentional about culture?
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