“Leadership is influence; nothing more, nothing less.” ~ John Maxwell
The most fundamental building block of policing is decision-making.
- Make contact or leave the person alone?
- Ask or command?
- Search or don’t search?
- Arrest or don’t arrest?
- Shoot or don’t shoot?
These are just a few examples of major decisions made by officers every day regarding issues of communication, search/seizure, arrest authority, and use of force. These decisions, along with an insane amount of lesser ones, get them through each shift – most of the time good, sometimes not so good dependent upon their decision-making. Law enforcement leaders must understand how they can influence officer decision-making because safety, public trust, and lives are on the line. To put it bluntly, they must learn to lead with P-R-I-D-E.
Policing is a very complicated profession and inevitably mistakes are going to happen. Therefore, law enforcement leaders must proactively discuss decision-making with their officers in terms of the process, not just in terms of right or wrong after the fact. While officers makes their own individual decisions, it is the leader that creates the environment they work in. That environment can either nurture or devastate good decision-making.
Part of the P-R-I-D-E Adaptive Decision-Making Model is a large blue circle with the following words written around it: Culture, Mission, Goals, and Why. This is the Leadership Circle. All decisions are influenced by this circle because culture, mission, goals, and why create the lens through which officers view their policing world.
If there is a squad of lazy, negative officers that are constantly getting into trouble, it is absolutely related to the environment of culture, mission, goals, and why allowed to exist by their “leader.” If there is a squad of hard working, positive officers that are constantly being recognized for their excellent work, it is related to the environment of culture, mission, goals, and why created by their leader.
CULTURE: Culture is simply defined as the prevailing actions and attitudes of a group over time. The leader of a group must play a significant role in setting the culture. The key to setting a culture is that the leader knows what they want their culture to be. Once the desired culture is defined, then the leader must identify ways to reward actions and attitudes that promote that culture. If a leader fails to define and implement their desired culture, then another one will form and the leader is no longer leading. For more on culture development, see our blog “Culture in Just 4 Words.”
MISSION: Mission starts with the department’s mission statement which is usually posted on a wall somewhere. Leaders must find ways to take the words off of the page and make them part of the culture as defined above. On a smaller scale, each call for service officers respond to has its own more specific mission. Identifying the purpose of a mission is a must for operational success. Many times, the mission can be defined by the role(s) that must be played by the officer in order to achieve a successful outcome. Does this call need a guardian, a warrior, a caretaker, a social worker, or an enforcer? Understanding large scale and small scale missions is important to good decision-making because mission sets the vision. For more on mission, see our blog “Shifting Gears in Policing.”
GOALS: Goals can exist on multiple levels; for example, department goals and personal goals. Many departments set goals for their officers with the intention of creating a method for tracking their officers’ activity or productivity. Where many departments fail with goal setting is that they set arbitrary goals that are not tied to their mission. In other words, there is no understanding as to why the goals exists or the purpose they serve. Department goals must be tightly correlated to the department mission to give them meaning to the officers and to provide meaningful information to upper staff. Personal goals should be set by the officers and related to their desired career path. Their career path sets a long-term vision which enables the officer, hopefully with the assistance of their leader, to determine specific goals that can be worked on each shift. Meeting incremental personal goals are the building blocks to an officer getting where they eventually want to go within the department. Leaders should put this into perspective for their officers so they understand that each shift is essentially part of the interview for their job of the future.
WHY: No one goes into law enforcement because they are going to get rich or be famous. Deep down there is something special in each person that decides to pin on a badge that drives them to run towards conflict, put their lives on the line, and serve a community. Whatever the reason, that is their personal why. The why fuels the fire to continue working when times get hard and empowers officers to go above and beyond when those opportunities exist. Law enforcement leaders must help officers identify their why, be able to articulate it, and help them hold tight to it for the entirety of their career. For more on why, see our blog “HELP WANTED: Police Officers.”
When a person chooses to promote within a law enforcement organization, they essentially have raised their hand and said, “I’m willing to lead.” It is not permission to do less, but a mandate to do more. Leading takes effort. Leading takes skill. Leading takes caring. Leading takes passion. To build influence in officer decision-making, those that promote must stand up and lead. They must create environments that focus on culture, mission, goals, and why. The leaders that take the time and make the effort to create these positive environments will be rewarded by the outcomes seen in their officers’ decision-making and they will spend less time running around putting out fires created by a bad environment.
The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement supervisors to be the best leaders they can be by providing positive leadership tactics and ideas. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time. Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have ideas to share or suggestions for improvement. Your thoughts or comments on this blog are always appreciated either below or on our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Twitter at @tbl_leadership.
Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!