Category Archives: Squad Culture

Creating “Wow” Moments in Policing

Why does the general public like the fire department better than the police department? The simple answer is this, the fire department is better at creating positive “wow” moments – saving lives, putting out fires, and of course getting cats out of trees. Sure, as law enforcement, we have our positive moments too, but we also have the disadvantage of having to hold people accountable for their unlawful actions by making traffic stops, writing tickets, placing people under arrest, and occasionally using force.


It would seem that law enforcement is stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Therefore, it becomes imperative of law enforcement leaders to support, recognize, reward, and promote their officers when they have the opportunity to take initiative and create positive “wow” moments for those they serve.

I would like to share a story that occurred a couple of weeks ago which represents the concept of creating a “wow” moment in policing. Anyone who has ever worked overnights can sympathize with the call that comes out with only 30 minutes remaining in the shift. The call that you know is going to unexpectedly cause you to stay late.

This particular call happened to be a 90 year old male who was having difficulty breathing. The two assigned officers arrived at the nursing home to find the fire department doing their best to save the elderly gentleman’s life, but ultimately learned that this medical call had become a death investigation. As the primary officers, they both knew they were now going to be on this call for at least a couple of hours past their regular time off.

The officers began doing their due diligence with the investigation – speaking to the reporting party, taking notes, locating a doctor to sign the death certificate, and so on. After just over two hours, they had everything completed with the investigation and were ready to go home to get some much deserved sleep before coming back that evening to do it all again.

As the two officers were getting to the nursing home’s front doors, they heard one of the nurses mention that the deceased’s wife was on her way there. The nurse mentioned that the couple had been married for 67 years and she still lived on her own just down the road. The officers spoke briefly and then asked one of the nurses if they could go back up to the room before the wife got there.

In order for the fire department to do their job, the elderly gentlemen had been placed on the floor, his clothes removed, LEDs placed all over his body, and an oxygen mask put over his face. That is how he was left by fire and after completing their investigation that is how he was left by the officers to wait for the mortuary company to pick him up . . . until they heard about his wife.

The two officers returned to the room and carefully moved the elderly gentleman’s body up into his bed. They removed the LEDs, rebuttoned his shirt, took off the oxygen mask, pulled up the covers, and made him look as if he was comfortably sleeping. They passed by the wife without saying a word about what they had just done and for all she knew this was exactly how he had passed.

That is how you create a “wow” moment in policing. While the wife will probably never know what they did, every employee at the nursing home that saw the actions of those officers experienced a “wow” moment. Service to the community that goes above and beyond what you could ever ask for or expect; service that makes the average bystander step back and say, “wow.”

How many times do you think the nursing home employees shared that story? What do you think the positive trickle-down effect is from this one event? We’ll never be able to quantitatively measure it, but just knowing the power that negative police interactions can have gives you some idea. The key is that we, as law enforcement, need to continue getting better at creating these “wow” moments.

Here are 5 ways that law enforcement leaders can help officers become better at creating positive “wow” moments:

  • Point out opportunities that present themselves. The first step is just recognizing opportunities that are there. Being a supervisor that is out on the road with your officers puts you in the position to see the potential and help lead your officers down the path of creating a “wow” moment, if they don’t see it themselves. Think positively outside the box.
  • Support your officers when they find an opportunity. Inevitably, opportunities to create “wow” moments are going to come when you are slammed with calls for service or are running under staffed. Being a leader means that you are willing to take on extra work when needed to support officers that find an opportunity to create a “wow” moment. You may have to help cover calls or do other work to make up for their temporary absence from the road, but in the end it will be well worth it.
  • Recognize “wow” moments when they occur. To reinforce the effort made by officers to create positive “wow” moments, you must keep a watchful eye out for when they occur and note them for future reward.
  • Reward officers for their effort to create “wow” moments. Once you recognize that an officer has gone above and beyond to create a “wow” moment, it is imperative that you reward it in some way as soon as possible through whatever means of recognition your department has. If there is no formal way through the department or it doesn’t rise to that level, create an informal way to recognize the effort within your squad.
  • Promote both the officer and the “wow” moment. Publicizing the exceptional work done by one of your officers is not only good for the officer and his/her career, but also for the department. The more often “wow” moments are recognized, rewarded, and promoted both internally and externally, the more likely they will be to be repeated. Once this is done effectively enough times, the momentum will help to keep the “wow” moments coming without nearly the effort it took to get them started. In addition, as other officers hear about the varying ways “wow” moments have been created and were rewarded, the more innovative they will be in finding their own opportunities to create “wow” moments.

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 and Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help.

Please do not hesitate to contact TBLL if you have ideas to share or suggestions for improvement. Share your thoughts or comments on this blog 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!


5 Killers of Positive Culture

A leader must be intentional in the culture they wish to create, because if they aren’t, then there is no telling what kind of culture may grow in its place. For all of the time and effort put into creating a positive culture, it only takes a few poorly timed miscues to throw away everything.  To help avoid these culture development pitfalls, let’s explore 5 killers of positive culture.

  1. This is the way we’ve always done it.

One of the greatest benefits that stems from having a positive culture is the feeling of security that allows officers to take initiative and innovate. When an officer feels safe enough to share a new concept or idea for improvement with their leader, that is a sign that there is a good, positive culture established. They are focusing on solutions instead of complaints. When this environment is effective, the innovators of the team will naturally try to find ways to contribute to the culture’s success. Unfortunately, if all or most new ideas get shot down solely because it is not the way it has been done in the past, then the leader doing the shooting down is teaching their officers not to waste their time innovating. A group that feels as if they do not have the power to assist in improving their current situation is a defeated group that will specialize in mediocrity and complaining.

  1. You’re just doing your job.

Any supervisor that feels the need to tell their officers that they are “just doing their job” will never wear the title of leader and eventually kill any positive culture that may have been present. Leadership 101 states that you should educate your followers on the value they bring to others through their work; assist them in recognizing their purpose. The more value someone feels their work has, the less it feels like something they have to do and more like something they get to do. When someone feels like they are contributing to a cause greater than themself, then they will be more motivated, productive, and fulfilled while doing their work.

  1. It’s all about me.

One aspect of a positive culture is the feeling that they are a part of a supportive, team environment. When those on the team feel that everyone has a “we” before “I” approach to their work, great things can be achieved. But, if the leader of any team has an “it’s all about me” attitude, then the team is sure to fail. An “it’s all about me” attitude can take on many different forms. It may be a leader that only cares about doing what needs to be done to get their next promotion as quickly as possible. It could be a leader that has a C.Y.A. philosophy and does not hesitate to throw their officers under the closest bus should it be needed to protect their own interests. Ultimately, leadership has nothing to do with “me” and everything to do with “we.” The most successful leaders recognize that their success comes through the success of their officers; not at their expense.

  1. It always rolls downhill.

Everything rolls downhill when those at the top want nothing to do with it. So, the question you, as a leader, have got to ask is this . . . where should it stop? A leader must constantly evaluate those things that roll downhill and decide if whatever it is should continue rolling or should it stop at my level? If the answer is that it should always roll downhill until it reaches someone that does not have a choice in dealing with it, then you have found yet another way to kill positive culture. A leadership position means that you take on the role of an umbrella; shielding your officers from having to deal with everything that rolls downhill by truly assessing the best place for things to be taken care of. If it is an issue created directly by one of your officers, then by all means the best learning experience will be for them to deal with it and develop their own solution. But, if it has absolutely nothing to do with any of your officers and it is just a crap job that no one else wants to do, then that is your opportunity as the leader to stand tall and confront the problem yourself. Delegating is an excellent tool, but not one to be taken advantage of just because you have the authority to do so or do not like the task at hand.

  1. Do as I say, not as I do.

As a leader, you set the example. You are the prototype for how you want your officers to carry themselves, treat others, be productive, and handle their work. If you show trust, loyalty and appreciation; then your officers will reciprocate by showing you trust, loyalty, and motivation. On the other hand, if what you say does not match what you do, your officers will be the first ones to pick up on that. Hypocrisy will take any existence of a positive culture and snuff it out like a candle in the wind. Then a culture of self-preservation, fear, and confusion will be what takes root since the actions of the leader do not match the words they are saying which creates an environment of uncertainty.

These 5 killers of positive culture are not elaborate, complex behaviors. They are simple, basic actions that anyone, if not careful, can make the mistake of committing. No person takes on a leadership role with the intention of destroying or hampering a positive culture, but it is easy to see how simple miscues can quickly lead to that result.

If you find yourself in the position of having made one or more of these errors, there is a solution . . . all is not lost. Stand tall in front of your team, admit your mistake, and apologize. Then give a vision of where you would like to go from here and ask for their assistance in getting there.

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 and culture development tactics. 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. Continue reading our Twitter feed and check out our other blogs for tactics on creating positive culture. Share your thoughts or comments on this blog 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!

4 Keys to Building Influence

Leadership is derived from influence…

Leadership is not born out of a title, a position, financial well-being, or seniority. While those factors may force someone to listen and do as you say in a particular moment, without influence they will never go above, do anything extra, or show true selflessness for those around them. In short, leadership from position only breeds mediocrity, short-sightedness, and selfishness.

When I say influence, I am referring to influence that inspires others to work hard because it is the right thing to do, put “we” before “I,” and to think of themselves as being a part of something greater. As in most professions, but especially in law enforcement, if you lead a team or squad with true influence, then they will do amazing things when it comes to saving the world one call at a time.

There are 4 keys to building true influence with your officers – contact, communication, connection, and contribution.


CONTACT: Contact is time, nothing more. While time may seem like the simplest of things you can offer, remember that it must be focused and consistent. Here are 4 opportunities to build contact into your everyday routine as a law enforcement leader…

  • Be purposeful in your briefings by finding ways to make them worthwhile for your officers.
  • Get out of the office and go handle some calls with your officers.
  • Find time to meet informally with each of your officers just to chat, see how things are, grab a coffee or beverage of choice.
  • Schedule department required trainings together with your whole squad or at least as many as possible.


COMMUNICATION: Two people can sit in a room for hours, but without communication during that time it means nothing. This is where building influence starts to require foresight, vision, and patience on your part. Communication by definition is a two-way street; an exchange. It requires that you not only have the ability to speak with meaning, but just as important you must be able to listen. Sometimes the most difficult part of communicating effectively is being quiet and listening to what your officers are telling you through both their words and actions. Here are 4 opportunities to increase your level of communication with your officers . . .

  • Consistently repeat, reword, and incorporate your squad expectations into everything you do. The more they hear the message, the more they will believe in it.
  • Be specific when praising your officers for a job well done. Don’t just say, “great job” and walk away. Say something along the lines of, “The way you were handling that interview with our victim was awesome, you really showed some empathy which got them talking. Thank you!” Not only have you praised them, but now they know exactly what you liked about what they did. Remember, what you reward will be repeated.
  • Before leaving from a call, make it a habit to go up to the case officer on scene and ask if there is anything you can do for them to help. This quick moment of communication shows that you are not above getting your hands dirty and shows that police work is a team effort. Of course, if they ask something you better be willing to do it.
  • Create a feedback form and give it to your officers to complete anonymously. Be specific about the traits you want them to evaluate you on and provide space for open-ended comments. This must be done in an environment of trust where the officers know that any advice they give will not be taken personally, but as constructive criticism. If you cannot handle open, honest feedback from your officers, then you need to reevaluate your leadership style and the environment you have created.


CONNECTION: Consistent contact and effective communication lead to the development of a connection. Connection is a bond developed in which there is mutual respect, honesty, and confidence in one another regardless of rank or position. Both sides of a connection trust that the other person has their back, will hold them accountable, and wants what is best for them as a team. Here are 4 opportunities to increase connection with your officers…

  • Build mentoring relationships with your officers. Have meetings with them regularly to discuss their career goals and give them ideas regarding things they can do in their current position to reach their career goals.
  • Know your officer’s strengths and put them in positions of leadership to make the most of them. If you are weak in a particular area of policing (tactics, investigations, traffic, etc.), empower an officer with those skills and defer to their expertise. If a call comes up that would give them some valuable experience in their area of interest, call them over to handle it.
  • Admit when you are wrong or could have done something better. When in briefing going over the latest hot traffic, do not let position or ego stand in the way of you admitting that there could have been a better way to handle it. Policing has many moments that force a leader into making quick decisions with limited information. Thus, we are bound to make mistakes. Treat mistakes, both yours and your officer’s, as learning opportunities so long as they are not injurious or a violation of rights.
  • After receiving feedback from your officers, show them that you have read them and are willing to improve in the areas they identified as your weaknesses. Inevitably, they are going to see things about you that you do not; recognize it and learn from it.


CONTRIBUTION: Contribution is when your officers show that they have bought into your influence through their wording, actions, and attitude. They are willing to not only follow your leadership, but they are also spreading your leadership themselves. Contribution is your confirmation that true influence has been established and if nurtured properly will be self-sustaining. Here are 4 examples of contributions you might see from your officers that reinforce your true influence in a positive way. . .

  • When discussing how to handle a call, they are exemplifying similar values and beliefs in policing that you have been instilling in them through your contact and communication.
  • When your officers are on a call with officers from an overlapping squad, they are confident enough in their knowledge, skills, and your leadership support to step up and take the lead on the call when others are hesitant or indecisive.
  • You will see your officers making the effort and taking the road that has more work because it is the right thing to do; not because it is the easiest.
  • When new officers arrive on your squad, your officers will immediately help them to feel like a part of the team, get them involved, make them feel comfortable, and teach them the culture of the squad.

The road to building true influence is not an easy one and it cannot be circumvented; the same 4 steps will always apply – contact, communication, connection, and contribution. If you want your team to excel and your officers to reach, not just their career goals, but their true potential as law enforcement professionals, then it is incumbent of you to build true influence with them and deliver the right message. This will then build the right concepts of leadership into the department’s next generation of leaders.

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 and 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.

Share your thoughts or comments on this blog 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!

Shifting Gears in Policing

Recently Harvard Law Review published an article by Seth Stoughton entitled “Law Enforcement’s ‘Warrior’ Problem.” It discussed the need for law enforcement to move beyond the idea of being “warriors” and accept the concept of becoming “guardians.” Stoughton wrote that the concept of being warriors started with the best of intentions, but has “created substantial obstacles to improving police/community relations.” Whichever side of the discussion you fall on, warrior or guardian, it is a huge over simplification to think that a single mentality can define the role patrol officers must play each shift to remain safe and protect the community. Law enforcement cannot be one or the other; we must have the ability to fill many different roles dependent upon the circumstances presented by the situation.

As a patrol sergeant with one of the youngest squads in the department, I knew that it would be vital to define the mentality I expected my officers to have while on the road. I could not support a singular mentality whose sole purpose was to either keep them safe or allow them to more easily interact with the public. Through this internal debate, I concluded that one of the biggest challenges facing law enforcement is getting away from any concept that takes a “one size fits all” approach. Patrol officers should not be asked or expected to be just warriors or just guardians. They should be expected to be and trained to be warriors, guardians, caretakers, counsellors, educators, enforcers, and community representatives with the ability to shift gears from one role into another seamlessly based upon the circumstances of the call.

Officers must possess the intelligence to quickly assess a situation, decide on the role they must play, and then execute it successfully while continuing to assess their ever changing environment. As law enforcement supervisors, we have to assist our officers in rectifying the conflict between showing compassion, empathy, and understanding while at the same time being ready to maintain control of the situation and possibly use force. Training the ability to show compassion, empathy, and understanding while also maintaining officer safety is the challenge law enforcement faces and the primary reason why a “one size fits all” mentality so easily took hold in the first place. One requires constant thinking, adapting, and assessing; while the other allows for simplicity.

Department training must adapt to this more complicated and effective style of policing. Just as it is critical for officers to have on-going training in firearms, legal updates, emergency driving, and defensive tactics; it is equally as important to find training techniques that emphasize problem-solving, de-escalation, and proper “gear selection” based upon a call’s circumstances. There must be an emphasis on finding solutions to problems and not just being a Band-Aid.

I understand that making training changes within a police department can be like turning around the Titanic; so here are 10 ways patrol supervisors can reinforce “gear shift” thinking within their squad.

  1. When officers call you with a question, walk them through your decision-making process by asking these 3 questions: 1) What do you know? 2) What do you want to do? 3) What is your intent with the chosen solution? Then affirm their answer or provide other options, but ultimately leave the decision up to the officer unless it endangers or violates rights.
  2. Take the time to train officers in all of the department’s available resources and referral services such as crisis lines, shelters, etc. Knowing the options available to them increases the number of possible solutions to a call for service.
  3. Debrief calls in detail and discuss alternative options at critical decision points.
  4. Send officers to outside trainings that build their knowledge base in other roles such as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), negotiating, and de-escalation techniques.
  5. Be on the road as a resource to your officers, but refrain from taking over calls unless necessary. Help them to recognize opportunities to use the department’s available resources and referral services when making an arrest is not the best “gear” to be in. Remember, solutions not Band-Aids.
  6. Tabletop training scenarios in briefing with multiple acceptable endings: arrest, warning/discretion, use a resource, or make a referral. Just like reality, there is rarely a single correct answer.
  7. Discuss de-escalation techniques and how to tone down “command presence” without sacrificing officer safety. Have officers that have attended training on topics like this share what they learned upon returning to the squad.
  8. Recognize and reward thoughtful, creative problem solving in briefing. What you reward will be repeated.
  9. Bring experts into briefing to discuss department resources and all the ways they are available to help officers when they are on calls. Do not assume that your officers know all of the resources available to them.
  10. Train your officers to be leaders on calls. When officers from other squads are hesitant to make a decision, your officers can take them over and set the example of finding solutions.

So, how does law enforcement need to be training for the future? Not just as warriors and not just as guardians, but as thoughtful officers that respond to situations in the most appropriate gear for finding solutions to the problems they are presented with.

The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement leaders to be better than they were yesterday. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time. To lead your officers in this direction, you have to make the most out of the precious time you have available in briefing to establish the culture you wish for them to demonstrate on your road.

Share your thoughts or comments with us below or on our Facebook page. Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!

BRIEFING IDEA: What makes a good beat cop?

Mark Miller, Vice President of Leadership Development at Chick-fil-A, once said, “People will do extraordinary things when a vision resonates deep inside of them.” The simple briefing idea described below helps to create a vision of what makes a great beat cop. It gets the entire squad on the same page regarding what they should expect out of each other and themselves as they are working their beats and also provides a positive way for them to bring up issues they may currently be having with squad mates. With everyone on the same page, you find that it becomes easier for them to hold themselves and each other accountable. As a supervisor, this activity gives you a great starting point for having conversations about creating a set of squad expectations or discussing issues  with current squad expectations.

BRIEFING IDEA: What makes a great beat cop?

Can you clearly define what makes a great beat cop? Stop and think about it for a moment . . . write down the top 5 traits you would expect to see. Now, ask yourself this, if you walked into your briefing and had your officers do the same thing, would their list be the same or at least similar to yours? The answer to that question is going to depend primarily on the strength of culture that has been established in your department and, more specifically, the one you have established on your squad. So, here is a simple idea to get everyone on the same page.

1. Before the briefing, choose 6 general categories that you feel a great beat cop can be defined by. For my briefing, I chose Leadership, Knowledge/Skills, Attitude, Communication (Verbal or Written), Productivity/Activity Level, and Use of Force/Officer Safety.

2. To start, walk into your briefing room and on a whiteboard draw a 2 by 3 grid for a total of 6 boxes. If you do not have a whiteboard, hang 6 large sheets of paper on the wall. I found that by not telling the officers what I was doing, it built up the intrigue of what was about to happen.

3. At the top of each box, write in one of the 6 categories that you chose in step #1.Jason's Stuff P6

4. To set the conversation up, ask your officers to envision what they think makes a great beat cop; someone that they would absolutely love to work with. Then, point out that there is probably a different vision for each person in the room based on their prior experiences. Explain that the object of this briefing is to define what WE, as a squad, believe makes a great beat cop so that everyone is on the same page when we head out to hit the streets together.

5. To help start the conversation, start by calling on officers directly, but in a rotation so everyone gets to have input. Ask each officer to give one idea to add to any of the 6 categories. I would suggest starting with the officers that you have previously identified as the leaders on your squad. When they are involved first, the others will be more comfortable speaking up. Do not forget to include yourself at the end of each rotation; you are part of the squad and when they hit the road your officers are an extension of your vision and leadership. For each idea you write, there is an opportunity for potential discussion or to bring up examples of times when you have seen officers exemplify this behavior.


6. After several rounds and the officers have become more comfortable with the discussion, review the items listed in each category. Read the items aloud and ask if there is anything that has been missed to complete the discussion for each category. This is your opportunity to steer the conversation towards areas the officers may not have thought about, but seek their input on the items you bring up. This cannot become the supervisor’s list or you will lose their buy-in. (Note: If you are generating a lot of good discussion, consider using a second briefing to complete the list.)

7. After the list is completed, write it down and put it into a presentable format to be handed out to the squad. See my squad’s final list below.

R1 Designs

8. Hand out a copy of the final document to each officer. Review the items listed for each category and ask your officers if there is anything listed that they cannot agree to do on a daily basis. Emphasize that this description is what everyone, including the supervisor, should be shooting to be on a daily basis. In my briefing, I made the point that nobody is going to be perfect 100% of the time, but if we are striving to demonstrate all of the positive qualities listed, then we will be pretty great beat cops.

It may feel awkward to think about leading a discussion like this in briefing; especially if you have never done anything similar. If that is the case, my suggestion would be to set it up by sharing with your officers you want to try something different in briefing a couple of shifts in advance. By simply giving a heads up about the change, it will set them up to be more understanding when you start this briefing and they won’t waste the time wondering why this just came out of nowhere.

The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement leaders to be better than they were yesterday. 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. To lead your officers in this direction, you have to make the most out of the precious time you have available in briefing to establish the culture you wish to have on your squad.

Share your thoughts or comments with us below or on our Facebook page. Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!

Good to Great: A Law Enforcement Leadership Interpretation

Jim Collins starts his book, “Good to Great,” with this simple quote: “Good is the enemy of great.” That quote struck me like a lightning bolt because, all too often, law enforcement gets stuck in the rut of thinking that good is a fine place to be. How often have you heard the phrase, “Good enough for government work” thrown around the department? We, as first-line supervisors, preach to our officers about avoiding complacency, but if we allow our squads to just be good then aren’t we exemplifying complacency in our leadership?


Whenever I read a book of this type, I am always thinking about how I can apply it in my role as a sergeant of eight officers that are within my span of influence. So, I decided that I would write this blog to share my thoughts on the major concepts described in “Good to Great” and how I see those applying to law enforcement leadership.

Before going any further, let me give you an idea of how the “Good to Great” concepts were formulated. Jim Collins and his research team conducted a detailed analysis of over 1,400 Fortune 500 companies looking for ones that demonstrated a very specific pattern of growth: At least 15 years of good results, a clear transition point, followed by at least 15 years of great results. Great results were defined as having a total stock return of at least 3 times the general market over the same period in time. Of the 1,400 companies they looked at, only 11 met that very specific criteria. They then began the lengthy process of analyzing what the distinctive traits were that those companies had in common which took them from good to great.


Now the question becomes, what does this business mumbo jumbo have to do with policing? Following the success of “Good to Great,” Jim Collins began hearing a similar question from multiple areas of social sector work – law enforcement, non-profit organizations, hospitals, education, etc. In 2005, he released a monograph (like an additional chapter) to supplement the book entitled, “Good to Great and the Social Sectors.” This supplement is geared specifically to the social sector and the unique constraints faced by these types of organizations such as hiring, firing, compensation, etc.

As he did in the original book, Jim Collins starts the monograph off with a profound statement, “We must reject the idea – well-intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become ‘more like a business.’” Business concepts on leadership have their place, but they must be properly interpreted in order to effectively be applied in law enforcement. Law enforcement must be led in a way that only a law enforcement leader can; by someone that has handled calls, made arrests, used force, and been in situations that they will never forget. The bottom line is this . . . law enforcement measures greatness through their service to the community, not profits.

Before proceeding into the “Good to Great” framework, the question law enforcement supervisors must answer is how do you define greatness in policing at your department? What specifically defines a good officer and what specifically defines a great officer? The only way to determine that answer is to look at your department’s mission statement, goals, strategic plan, performance evaluation process, etc. and understand how those things are measured at the officer level. Once it is understood what your officers must demonstrate in order to be considered great, under the guidelines of your department, then you can proceed in applying the Good to Great concepts.

Just a quick note to any chiefs or command staff that may read this . . . if you cannot define greatness in your organization in concrete detail, then neither can your officers or first-line supervisors. Honor-Initiative-Excellence are great qualities to put on the side of a patrol car or hang on a wall in the briefing room, but if you don’t define them in concrete, “this-is-what-it-looks-like” terms; then they are just words.


Level 5 Leadership: For a squad to go from good to great, it is first necessary for them to have what Jim Collins refers to as a Level 5 Leader at the helm. A level 5 leader is ambitious and initiative-driven when it comes to applying their department’s definition of greatness to their work as a police officer. I say police officer because regardless of rank, we all started as police officers and that is the common denominator when it comes to the reason we started in this career. Level 5 leaders demonstrate that it is more about the job and their officers than themselves. They share a passion for learning, teaching, and leading other officers in the proper way to police. Ultimately, level 5 leaders realize their success comes through making those they lead successful. (For more similar to this, see our blog entitled, “The 10 Law Enforcement Leadership Commandments.”)


First Who…Then What: The most valuable resource in a police department is not people, it is having the right people. The only way to take a squad from good to great is to have the right people on it; ones that are willing to get on board and make the transition to greatness. Unfortunately, due to the structure of police departments, we cannot always control who we have on our squads. Therefore, it is incumbent of the first-line supervisor to do everything within their power to mold their officers into being the right people. This will not always work, but it is an effort that must be made. Developing the right people can be accomplished through training, honest evaluations, handling call with them, briefing discussions, assigning them to ride with more experienced officers, good field training officers, etc. Once you have the right people on your squad, then you have to get them into the “right seats on the bus.” Assess the skills and talents that your officers possess and assign them to beats where those skills and talents can be best applied. Then, help direct those officers into specialty units that fit their skills and talents to benefit the department as a whole. (For more similar to this, see our blog entitled, “6 Ways to Positively Influence Officer Behavior.”)


Confront the Brutal Facts: Confronting the brutal facts is all about retaining unwavering faith in the goal of becoming great while at the same time recognizing the challenges to that goal. They may stem from the community, the department, policies, staffing, politics, compensation, or internal squad issues.  You must possess the discipline to recognize your current reality and work tirelessly to improve the circumstances you find yourself in no matter the difficulties. Find like-minded individuals within the department that also have the desire to be great and collaborate with them to begin tackling the issues that you can control. Don’t waste your time on things you can’t control. Dealing with these issues will take dedication, time, and effort; but as long as your intentions are directed towards reaching the goal, the squad will come along. (For more similar to this, see our blog entitled, “Change and Reputation.”)

The Hedgehog Concept: The Hedgehog Concept has to do with having simple, basic principles for your squad to follow that support the goal of becoming great and maintaining that greatness. These principles should be the intersection of the 3 circles – what you can be the best at, what you are passionate about, and what drives your department’s vision of greatness.


The first two circles are pretty self-explanatory, but measuring a police department’s vision of greatness can be difficult because it is not as simple as measuring profits in a business. A police department’s vision of greatness comes through in their community’s perception of them. Does the community trust that the department is there to protect them and act in their best interest with the power and authority that has been granted upon them? Like the Colorado River slowly forming the Grand Canyon, the thing to remember about the Hedgehog Concept is that the simple, basic principles of your squad need to be applied and reinforced on a consistent and on-going basis. (For more similar to this, see our blog entitled, “Culture in Just 4 Words”)


Culture of Discipline: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. As law enforcement, we have a great deal of power and authority and we must be constantly accountable to the community we serve. There are many pressures that can instigate the slide down the slippery slope of dishonesty, malfeasance, and abuse of power. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the first-line supervisor, to nurture a culture of discipline within their squad that does the right things, at the right times, for the right reasons without emotion or prejudice and for the good of the community at-large. If a culture of discipline is set in place from the beginning, then having to deal with actual discipline will be limited to the minor mistake that can be handled and put into the past. (For more similar to this, see our blog entitled, “The 3 Accountability Relationships in Law Enforcement.”)

The Flywheel: The flywheel is about consistently applying the concepts listed above in such a way that you start the flywheel of greatness spinning. The more the above concepts are applied, the faster the wheel begins to spin, and the less effort necessary to make it continue. Eventually, so much momentum is gained that it generates its own energy. The patrol culture you create is the first-line supervisor’s version of a flywheel. By putting the time and attention necessary into nurturing the right patrol culture, the first-line supervisor can start the flywheel of greatness spinning. If focus begins to slip and the Hedgehog Concept gets muddled up, the flywheel will begin to slow and greatness will begin to slide back to good or worse. Therefore, the entire process must be internalized by the first-line supervisor and assume their role to actively lead their squads towards greatness. (For more similar to this, see our blog entitled, “A Law Enforcement Leadership Reward.”)

The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement leaders to be better than they were yesterday. 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. By discussing topics like this, law enforcement leaders are tending to the welfare of the “whole” officer, not just the one in uniform.

Share your thoughts or comments with us below or on our Facebook page. Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!

A Law Enforcement Leadership Reward

“Leadership is not a license to do less. Leadership is a responsibility to do more.” (Simon Sinek) The results of your leadership, no matter how hard you work, cannot be easily measured. But every now and then you receive something like the letter below and know that all of the effort that has been put into leading your officers is worth it. These are the rewards of positive law enforcement leadership.

The names of the subject, officer, and police department have been removed for privacy.


One final note regarding a leadership reward of this nature. Always be sure to appropriately recognize, reward, and promote the officer that earned this kind of respect from a subject they arrested. Recognize them by reading the letter in front of their squad mates and reward them with whatever means your department provides or you have developed within the squad. Promote the officer by forwarding the letter up the chain of command so their name gets attributed appropriately to this type of excellence.

The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement leaders to be better than they were yesterday. 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.

Share your thoughts or comments with us below or on our Facebook page. Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!

Change and Reputation


As a police sergeant, I have 2 primary goals regarding the officers on my squad: 1. Keep them safe. 2. Assist them in being successful at reaching their goals. To assist them in being successful with their goals, I find it is necessary to help give them perspective on the “big picture.” In law enforcement, it is easy to get caught up on short-sighted issues that demoralize a squad like staffing, compensation, negative public perceptions, etc. With that being said, I wrote this and read it in one of my recent briefings.

Change and your reputation go hand in hand in any organization, but in a mid-sized police department it is even truer – there is nowhere to hide within a 400 person department. We all know the phenomenal street cop whose career was or is being derailed by their poor reputation/attitude. More times than not, their poor reputation/attitude is related to their inability to deal with change effectively.

Change is inevitable. The only thing that stays constant is that circumstances and situations are always changing. How you deal with change comes down to your own personal responsibility and accountability – What do you expect of yourself? This defines not only your ability to deal with change, but also develops your reputation within the organization. Are you a whiny victim of change or are you someone who can deal and work within the system that is present?

The sooner it is accepted that the system is what it is and will always be slow to respond, the easier it becomes to deal with organizational lapses. Organizations, like people, are inherently flawed – no organization is perfect because they are run by human beings who are made up of attitudes, egos, and emotions. To move beyond the lapses, though, you have to take the long view and not be focused on just the short-term. So, the question becomes, how can you react to change to get the best outcome and solidify a reputation as a positive, forward thinker?

First, when change is approaching, ask this question of yourself, “What can I do?” This is the most direct and proactive response you can have. Sometimes you’ll have the ability to affect change before it is upon you and sometimes you won’t. The key is to remember that working within yourself is the only thing you actually have true control over. By taking initiative and working from the front, you can often help direct change in a more palatable direction.


But, what if there is nothing you can do to directly affect the change that is coming? I answer that question with a quote from Maya Angelou, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

If you can’t effect the situation directly, then whining, complaining, or having beat office bitch sessions will do nothing but hurt YOUR reputation. The perceived “problem” will rarely be blamed because it is so ambiguous and comes from “they” levels. You know who “they” are, right? I implore you not to see change as something that is out to get you – it is vital to your career success to be a person who can identify the positives and opportunities that come with change.

There are 3 things you are always in control of when it comes to change – your actions, your attitude, and your effort. The common denominator to all 3 of those is YOU – you are in control and no one can take that away unless you let them. It is all about being proactive, not reactive.

Here are 5 steps to help deal with change in a positive, forward-thinking manner. These steps are adapted from the book Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.

Change Awareness

  1. Accept that change happens.
  2. Anticipate change.
  3. Affect change, if possible.
  4. Adapt to change quickly by adjusting your perspective.
  5. Enjoy change by being in personal control of your response to it.

Ultimately to succeed, not just within an organization, but in life, it is about survival of the fittest – your ability to adapt and overcome to change. Just like responding to a call, the situation is always going to be fluid. How you respond is your choice and builds your reputation either for better or for worse!

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. By discussing topics like this, law enforcement leaders are tending to the welfare of the “whole” officer, not just the one in uniform.

Share your thoughts or comments with us below or on our Facebook page. Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!

Don’t Get Captured

“Work hard, have fun, be safe, and don’t get captured.” I end every patrol briefing with those four simple requests. The first three are pretty straightforward. It was the last one that generated snickers from my patrol officers, but that was fine by me; I knew they had heard it. Each briefing for a month and a half ended in the same way, but the snickers slowly faded. I assume they probably thought I was nuts to continue making the same dumb joke every shift. Then, I shared the meaning . . .

A few years ago, I was sitting in my living room watching one of the best television shows ever made, HBO’s The Wire. Jimmy McNulty, played by Dominic West, and the group of characters that had come together to run a wiretap had been disbanded and reassigned back to their old assignments. The scene opens with a Baltimore Police Department lieutenant giving a patrol briefing. At the very end of the briefing, he closes by saying, “Don’t get captured.”

As a patrol officer at the time, I thought that was a pretty funny way to end a briefing. The simplistic meaning I came up with was that it was a comedic way for the writers to get across the danger that exists on a daily basis working patrol in Baltimore. For some inexplicable reason, this phrase stuck with me. I decided, years before promoting, that I would end every briefing I lead with “don’t get captured,” but for very different reasons than the simplistic one I thought of the first time I heard it.

Don’t get captured truly has a much deeper meaning. Think about it, what does it really mean to be captured? Here are my two reasons for ending each briefing this way:

First, to be captured means you or someone leading you has created a situation that is beyond your control; too far behind enemy lines, surrounded. In law enforcement, it is very easy to metaphorically get too far behind those lines. It could be walking into a domestic violence call without backup, trying to break up a fight without recognizing the encircling crowd, or getting pulled into a foot pursuit without knowing what is around the corner. These are all situations that good patrol officers need to learn to recognize and respond to appropriately so they don’t get behind those lines. The same sentiment holds true for law enforcement supervisors that are running emergency traffic and leading officers during the most volatile moments policing has to offer.

Second, to be captured also means that you gave up and stopped fighting. As officers, we all accept the reality that we may have to physically defend ourselves and survive long enough for backup to arrive. If we give up, quit, and stop fighting; then the consequences could be life threatening. Babe Ruth said, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” Could there be any truer statement than that for the patrol officer that is in a fight for their life?

So, why do I end every patrol briefing by saying, “don’t get captured?” I do this because it serves as a subtle reminder to the men and women I’m leading to always be cautious of what they are heading into and to never give up. Backup is coming . . . just keep fighting.

Thank you for reading our blog. 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.

Share your thoughts or comments with us below or on our Facebook page. Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!

Confusion of Sacrifice

Finding a balance between home and work can be a daunting and difficult task for any profession, but when it comes to being a police officer it takes very purposeful effort to make it work. There is no need to recite statistics on law enforcement officers and divorce rates, we all know where those stand. The fact is that to be as safe and effective as possible on patrol, things at home must be good. A distracted officer is a liability not only to himself, but also his fellow officers. As a law enforcement leader, it is imperative that the topic of striking a healthy balance between home life and patrol life be discussed.

To discuss this topic further, the root of the issue must be unearthed. As a law enforcement supervisor that has been married for nearly 20 years, I believe that the issue begins with a confusion of sacrifice. Every shift, we go out on patrol and put everything on the line for people that we don’t even know. We run towards the sound of shots, we get in the middle of fights, and we work shifts that “normal” people have never considered. That is the sacrifice we chose to make when we took on this job.

The confusion of sacrifice sets in is when we get home and are too tired, too emotionally unavailable, or have too many excuses for the things that need to be done at home and in our marriages to keep them functioning like well-oiled machines. Where’s the guy that ran towards the sound of shots, got in the middle of the fight, or worked a fifth 12 hour shift in a row? Where is the hero that went out and saved the world one call at a time? It is easy to understand how a significant other can become confused by the amount we are willing to sacrifice for work, but then not reciprocate that same level of sacrifice at home.

So, here are three things this can be done to help alleviate this confusion of sacrifice…

  1. Sacrifice a little sleep.

After working the last day of the week, nothing sounds better than a good sleep, but this is one thing that can easily be altered to demonstrate a little sacrifice for the home front. While working these crazy law enforcement shifts, our significant others and children are home living life without our presence. On that first day off, commit to just getting the minimum amount of sleep needed to get onto their schedule. Maximizing the amount of home time is vital to showing purposeful sacrifice at home.

  1. Plan one-on-one time with your significant other.

The amount of time available on a weekend depends on each department’s particular schedule, but during that off time, plan something that can be done one-on-one with your significant other. This does not have to be anything elaborate or expensive; just something that is purposely planned to allow time to talk, discuss the upcoming week, or simply enjoy each other’s company. While an actual date is phenomenal, it can be as simple as a walk around the neighborhood, a game of cards, or uninterrupted time sitting on the front porch. If there are young children and getting a babysitter is a hurdle, get the kids into bed, make or pick up a late dinner, and have an in-home date. Whether big or small, the main point is to do something purposefully each weekend.

  1. Share why being a police officer is important.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about being a police officer is the lack of understanding as to why – Why would anyone want to be a cop? To alleviate confusion of sacrifice in a relationship, it is vital that communication with your significant other is open regarding why working as a police officer is important to you. Share what is enjoyable about the job, the funny things that occur during a shift, something cool that another officer did, or that you were involved in. The more a significant other understands the “why” behind the badge, the less confusion of sacrifice there will be.

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. By discussing topics like this, law enforcement leaders are tending to the welfare of the “whole” officer, not just the one in uniform.

Share your thoughts or comments with us below or on our Facebook page. Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!