3 Signs of a Miserable Law Enforcement Job

“High school kids at In-N-Out Burger and Chick-fil-A are doing largely the same job that kids at any other fast-food restaurant are doing, and yet there are a lot fewer miserable jobs at In-N-Out and Chick-fil-A. The difference is not the job itself. It is the management. And one of the most important things that managers must do is help employees see why their work matters to someone. Even if this sounds touchy-feely to some, it is a fundamental part of human nature.”     – Patrick Lencioni


The premise of the book “3 Signs of a Miserable Job” by Patrick Lencioni is simply this – staying in a miserable job can have severely negative consequences on a person mentally, physically, and emotionally. These consequences can affect a person’s life both personally and professionally and it does not have to be that way. The good news is that, as supervisors, we have the ability to combat the 3 signs of a miserable job and it really is not that complicated.

Here are the 3 signs of a miserable job . . .


“People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority. . . . People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.”


“Everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment. Even the most cynical employees need to know that their work matters to someone, even if it’s just the boss.”


“Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be. Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.”

In relation to law enforcement, if an officer is miserable in their job due to the factors of anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability, then what is the cost to them personally, their squad, their department, and the community they are supposed to be serving? Personally, they carry their misery home which adversely affects their family life. They become the salty grump in the back of the briefing room that complains about everything and sucks the energy out of all around them. To the department they are a liability because of the negative impact on the culture and the unpredictability of their actions on the road. The community suffers because the miserable officer represents the worst of the police department which erodes public trust and makes the job that much more difficult for the officers that are not miserable. How many officers are you picturing in your head right now that match this description of a miserable officer?

Here are 25 ways law enforcement supervisors can combat anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability . . .


  1. Create a team atmosphere within the squad where it is believed that we is greater than I.
  2. When you get a new officer, meet with them individually and get them on board with the squad culture from day one.
  3. Recognize good police work in briefing. What you reward will be repeated.
  4. Have officers debrief good calls for service and share their expertise and successes with others.
  5. Get out of the office and on the road with your officers. Try to get on a call for service or backup each of your officers during each shift, if time allows.
  6. Rotating having officers conduct briefing training based upon their policing strengths and interests.
  7. Meet with officers regularly to discuss their career goals and seek out opportunities to help them fulfill those goals.
  8. Get to know your officers’ families. Create opportunities for them to all get together with the other families of the squad.
  9. Send handwritten thank you notes to your officers’ spouses or significant others to let them know that you appreciate the commitment that the families make to law enforcement, too.


  1. Making policing relevant is about getting back to the “why.” Know why you chose to become a police officer. Know why you chose to be a supervisor. Share your why with your officers. Get to know their why, find opportunities to relate their why to calls for service, and discuss the relationship in briefing.
  2. As a supervisor, you set the tone and create value in community service. If it is important to you, it will be important to them.
  3. Promote public commendations in briefing by reading them aloud for all your officers to hear.
  4. Teach your officers to be good beat cops and take pride in their assigned part of the city.
  5. Get away from the term customer service and focus on community service. The term customer service cheapen what we do as police officers and builds irrelevance.
  6. Have discussions in briefing regarding who your officers serve. Point out that they serve not only the community, but they also serve each other. Discuss that you, the supervisor, are there to serve them.
  7. Teach your squad to have a focus on finding solutions while on calls for serve; not on producing statistics, being a band aid, or handling them as quickly as possible.
  8. Exemplify and promote a culture of positivity on your squad through your actions, attitude, and effort.
  9. Provide good feedback and evaluations to your officers. In return, ask for them to do the same for you.


Of the 3 signs of a miserable job, immeasureability is the most difficult for law enforcement supervisors to deal with directly. There is no limit to the number of statistics that can be measured for each officer: calls for service responded to, self-initiated activities, arrests made, tickets written, response times, amount of time spent on each call, number of community policing activities, etc. The question becomes, are we measuring the right things?

  1. Clearly define what the “rock star” police officer would do on a “perfect” shift based upon the mission, vision, and operational goals of the department.
  2. Determine what statistics officers and/or the department have the ability to capture that correspond to the “perfect” shift. If part of the “perfect” shift includes community policing and/or positive interactions with the community, then a way to count those interactions must be determined, as well.
  3. Set specific goals based upon what the “perfect” shift would look like that clearly define what success looks like for officers and provide them with a way to track those numbers.
  4. Ultimately, whatever is chosen to be measured must be supported by the officers’ direct supervisors because the direct supervisors will give the statistics being measure their value.
  5. Supervisors must assist officers in seeing the positive perspective to their seemingly negative activities like making arrests or writing tickets.
  6. The question to be answered is how do you measure community policing activity effectiveness? Do you count the number of positive citizen commendations, the number of people that say “thank you” after being arrested/written a ticket, or the amount of time dedicated to solving beat problems? This is where the difficulty in the measurability of policing comes into play and must be answered by departments everywhere.

There are many more ways to combat anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability in policing. If these 3 signs of a miserable job are not addressed by law enforcement supervisors, then they will have to deal with the miserable officers they are allowing to be created.

“If you’re still not convinced that this makes sense or that it applied to you, this would be a good time to consider resigning your position as a manager and finding a role as an individual contributor.”  – Patrick Lencioni

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!


10 Steps for Teaching Leadership in Law Enforcement – Part 2

10 Steps

This is Part 2 of 10 Steps for Teaching Leadership in Law Enforcement. To read Part 1, click here.

  1. Leadership-Based Promotional Processes

When it comes to promoting higher in rank, every department seems to have their own unique process; usually some combination of written tests, assessment centers, oral boards, etc. Most of these evaluation tools focus more on the managerial qualities of rank rather than leadership qualities. In order to promote the continual learning of leadership, promotional processes must be based upon leadership demonstrated in the past, present, and most likely into the future. That is what a leadership-based promotional process must be based upon; the prediction of continued leadership into the future. I will not try to give a generic process that a law enforcement agency should duplicate, but I will try to make a few points that any agency should focus their process upon in their own way.

(1) How has the promotional candidate represented the definition of leadership as described in Step #2 in their current and past assignments?

(2) Has the promotional candidate contributed to the future of the agency as a Field Training Officer and how have their Officers-In-Training turned out?

(3) Is the promotional candidate an instructor of anything; do they share their knowledge and expertise with others to make those around them stronger?

(4) How has the promotional candidate responded to failure and/or correction in the past?

(5) How does the promotional candidate make others feel around them?

(6) Does the promotional candidate lean more towards being an optimist or a pessimist?

(7) Has the promotional candidate shown an ability to bring a team or squad together?

If an agency creates a process that focuses on these 7 questions, they will identify the future leaders that should be promoting and those who should not.

  1. Leadership-Based Sergeant Training Program

First-line supervisors have the most direct influence on their officers and sworn officers make up the largest percentage of any law enforcement agency. Even though sergeant is typically the lowest rank of official promotion, this influence gives them a great deal of power within the organization and in the development of the department’s culture. Therefore, it is imperative that law enforcement agencies have a well thought out leadership-based sergeant training program. The word sergeant comes from the Latin term “serviens” which means “one who serves” and it is important that a sergeant training program emphasizes this belief for the good of the department and the continuous teaching of leadership. Creating a Sergeant-In-Training (SIT) Program for officers that are seeking promotion which occurs prior to promotion and mimics a Field Training Officer Program, provides the agency with consistency in training among their leadership ranks. A good Sergeant-In-Training Program should be built upon the department’s definition of leadership. As the sergeant-in-training progresses through the phases of the SIT Program, the experienced training sergeant must ensure that the SIT adheres to the department’s definition of leadership in their decision-making, interactions with officers, running of critical incidents, and in all other duties of a sergeant. In these actions they will be evaluated and only upon successful completion of the Sergeant-In-Training Program will they officially promote.

  1. Experience on Rookie Schedules

The most easily influenced officers within an agency are the rookies. They come out of the academy full of piss and vinegar ready to save the world only to realize once they step foot on the streets that they really do not know nearly as much as they thought they did. Upon making this humbling realization, they become the most malleable officers with the entire department. Therefore, if there are schedules (ie. nights and weekends) within the agency where rookie officers conglomerate due to their lack of seniority, then there must be a mechanism in place to exemplify the application of the department’s definition of leadership as they learn to work within their new world as police officers. It is vital to have sergeants and hopefully a couple of experienced officers, possibly FTOs, they can work alongside that represent the highest standards of leadership within the agency. Having these models for rookies to watch and emulate at the early stages of their careers perpetuates both the desired culture and leadership style of the department. If change is sought within an agency, start by influencing the rookies. Over the long run, the rookies will work their way through the years of their careers and possible promotion to eventually complete the cycle of teaching leadership throughout the various schedules and ranks of the department.

  1. Mentorship at All Levels of Command

In order to support the department’s definition of leadership at all levels, there must be a trickle-down effect of mentorship. With a single, consistent message being passed through the ranks, the cycle of leadership will be further disseminated. Experienced officers should mentor newer officers. Sergeants should mentor their experienced officers. Lieutenants should mentor their sergeants and so on throughout the agency’s ranks. The key is that the agency’s definition of leadership must be the one consistent message throughout. (Example “Trickle-Down Leadership”)

  1. 360 Evaluations & Feedback

The final step for teaching leadership in law enforcement creates the guidelines for making sure all involved in the teaching of leadership remain true to the message. Having an evaluation system established that takes into account the perspectives of those above, at, and below each rank in the chain of command will provide the feedback necessary to motivate leaders to stay true to the department’s definition of leadership. True leaders should not fear what they may hear from those they work with and around in their evaluations, if they have been true leaders directed by the definition of leadership put forward by the department. They welcome the feedback and opportunity to learn and improve as leaders. If evaluations of a leader are negative, then that should serve as an arrow pointing out the direction in which additional leadership training and mentorship should take place. If negative feedback continues after additional training and mentorship have been given, then consideration should be made into whether or not the department wants that leader to remain in a leadership position because it will be at the expense of those they are supposed to be leading. These evaluations need to be active and on-going. Receiving feedback once a year is not nearly enough to provide an accurate guide for leadership. Once a quarter would provide a more regular supply of information, but the key is that the evaluation process must be quick and simple. A time consuming evaluation process done 4 times a year would do nothing but add more paperwork to an already administratively burdened profession. The key to having success with this type of process is that the definition of leadership is clear, trust in the process is developed, and an environment of education and learning is supported.

By implementing these 10 steps to teach leadership in law enforcement, the department gains a clear and concise message of leadership throughout the organization. Once all ranks within the department share the same message, the effort needed to sustain this culture of leadership will lessen. Inspired leaders will inspire officers which will improve policing and thus improve the community they serve.

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!

10 Steps for Teaching Leadership in Law Enforcement – Part 1

“The rank of office is not what makes someone a leader. Leadership is the choice to serve others with or without any formal rank. There are people with authority who are not leaders and there are people at the bottom rungs of an organization who most certainly are leaders. It’s okay for leaders to enjoy all the perks afforded them. However, they must be willing to give up those perks when it matters.”

~ Excerpt from Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek


A couple of weeks ago, I received a direct message on Twitter that asked the following: “I was in the military and have been a police officer for 10 years. I would love to hear how you teach leadership. I’m not trying to be a doubter, but I work for some non-leading people who don’t know or understand leadership or how to lead.”

First, let me say how unfortunate it is that you are currently working for “some non-leading people.” I can empathize with how you are feeling and guarantee you are not alone in that feeling. In fact, most law enforcement agencies have their fair share of “non-leaders” who are in positions of higher rank. Policing is a noble profession with an amazing purpose and plenty of fun, exciting moments; but all of that can be overshadowed by working for a “non-leader.”

Law enforcement agencies hire people from many different facets of life. Some come from the military, some come from the business world, and others come straight out of college. Every one of these people enter the law enforcement profession with many different prior experiences and therefore different definitions of leadership and what it should look like. To teach leadership within a law enforcement agency, this fact must be addressed.

It is imperative that law enforcement agencies develop a strategy for teaching leadership and developing leaders within the organization from the moment an officer is hired and throughout the entirety of their career. Only then can an agency begin to achieve leadership excellence throughout every level of rank.

Here are the first 5 steps for teaching leadership in law enforcement:

  1. Hire Leadership Potential

Teaching leadership starts by hiring the right people. In order to develop leaders, an organization must identify people in the hiring process that are self-reflective, values based, and authentic. They must possess the capability to assess themselves and their actions honestly. An ability to identify both strengths and weaknesses is vital in the development of a leader. Their values must be clear because as a police officer they are going to be given great power and we all know that with great power comes great responsibility. Clear values also make decision making easier and good decision making is a key characteristic of good leaders. Authentic people know who they are. They are comfortable with themselves and can therefore withstand the pressures of the job; both inside the organization and out. If this were easy, every law enforcement agency would do it. In order to find these people in the hiring process, the true leaders within the agency must be involved in the process at all levels. This is key because those that are true leaders and have seen true leadership possess the unique ability to spot other leaders.

  1. Define Leadership

In order to define leadership, a law enforcement agency must start by defining its desired culture. Culture should answer questions like the following: Who do we want to be? and What are we all about? As mentioned in previous blogs, culture is made up of an agency’s prevailing actions and attitudes over time. Defining desired actions and attitudes creates the culture. (Example “Culture in Just 4 Words”) Only when a clear vision of the desired culture exists can specific leadership characteristics be defined. Defining leadership means thinking about the desired culture and asking the following question: What specific actions and attitudes do leaders within the organization need to be exemplifying in order to promote the desired culture? (Example “The 10 Law Enforcement Leadership Commandments”) Do not confuse this with a generic department vision or mission statement. Defining leadership means to identify specific actions and attitudes that leaders and developing leaders should be applying to everything they do and every decision they make.

  1. Learn about Leadership

True leaders are lifelong learners. They recognize that there will never be a point in their career when they can just relax, stop learning, and become stagnant to knowledge. To create this atmosphere of lifelong learning, law enforcement organizations must encourage and provide leadership education. In the same way officers train regularly in defensive tactics, firearms, and legal updates, leadership training should be just as regular. Too often, leadership training is left up to individuals to seek out their own learning. If an agency takes the time to define their own style of leadership, then they should be supporting it with training that builds off of their leadership definition. Departments can encourage discussion groups at each level of rank where similar challenges and successes can be shared with each other. Develop a preferred leadership reading list that contains books that support the definition of leadership chosen by the department. Here are some books that have defined my definition of leadership: Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, You Win in the Locker Room by Jon Gordon, The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon, First Fast Fearless by Brian Hiner, EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey, QBQ! by John G. Miller, Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet, Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni, and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. I have personally read all of these books and this same list is given to anyone within my department that has a desire to learn more about leadership.

  1. Identify Informal Leaders

If a department adheres to Step #1: Hire Leadership Potential, then it is imperative that the current leaders within the organization keep a constant watch for officers that are demonstrating leadership potential from informal positions. Here are a few key behaviors that identify informal leaders: They teach others how to be better officers. They learn from their mistakes. They take the lead on calls for service. They absorb learning about the job. They do not fear hard work. They find ways to help others. They bring others together. They are not scared to give or take advice. They are active participants in briefings. They are always looking to be the best officer they can be. They stay positive and seek solutions when issues arise instead of mindlessly complaining. Once identified, find ways to recognize and reward their leadership behaviors. This will not only reinforce the leadership behaviors of the informal leader, but will also spark other officers to follow their example. (Example “A Law Enforcement Recognition Idea”)  It is also necessary to keep these informal leaders stimulated by involving them in discussions about leadership or introducing them to the department leadership reading list – See Step #3: Learn about Leadership. Finally, challenge these informal leaders to start planning and doing what is necessary to move into more formal leadership roles within the department such as testing for a specialty unit or becoming a field training officer (FTO).

  1. Leadership-Based Field Training Officers

Creating a leadership-based FTO program starts with going back to Step #2: Defining Leadership. Basing the testing and selection criteria off of this definition is key. The defined actions and attitudes that the department identifies as the qualities it wants its leaders to exhibit should be used to create test questions, oral board questions, and/or scenarios. The candidate pool should primarily be filled with the informal leaders identified in Step #4: Identify Informal Leaders. Once selected, FTO School should not only be based upon reinforcing the defined leadership characteristics, but also on instructing/evaluating in one-on-one situations, progressive trial/error based learning, positive engagement, and situational decision-making. Unfortunately, many FTO schools spend the majority of their time on administrative tasks, documentation, and strict policy adherence to mitigate liability. While these are important, leadership-based FTO programs should be built upon the belief that a trainee does not care how much the FTO knows until the trainee knows how much the FTO cares. This belief is most easily ingrained into new FTO’s if they have had it exemplified to them by their FTO’s and experienced the success that can be had from it.

These are the first 5 of 10 Steps for Teaching Leadership in Law Enforcement. The next blog post will continue with Steps 6 through 10.

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. Inspired leaders, inspire cops, improve policing, create better communities. It’s just that simple! 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!

Trickle-Down Leadership

In the 1980’s, the term “trickle-down economics” was coined to describe the economic policies of President Ronald Reagan. To completely over simplify, these policies favored the wealthy with the thought being that the wealthy’s financial success would trickle-down to those lower on the socio-economic food chain by way of more jobs, better advancement opportunities, and higher wages. Translation – Having it better at the top would make it better on those towards the bottom.

When it comes to the paramilitary model that law enforcement agencies are built upon, a similar “trickle-down” concept applies to leadership. There will not be a “flattening” of this model anytime soon; therefore, it is vital that leaders within law enforcement agencies recognize the role they play in this “trickle-down” leadership model. Unlike the economics concept which was based upon having it “better” at the top, the law enforcement version must be built upon leaders demonstrating such high levels of values-based, servant leadership that those positive leadership qualities “trickle-down” onto each tier of leadership below it.


When there is a dedicated, consistent flow of positive leadership at the top, over time it will fill its own vessel and trickle over the edges. If the vessel below is in position to catch it, then it too will begin to fill and subsequently trickle over its edges into the vessel below that. This will continue until eventually positive leadership will fill the lowest level of the structure and begin to overflow onto its base.

While the structure mentioned above is obviously a metaphor for the paramilitary model, the base is typically not considered to be part of the structure, but it most definitely is. The base in this example is representative of the community the department serves. Just as a structure cannot stand without a base, without the community, the existence of law enforcement to protect it is futile. The other key component to this metaphor is that what begins at the top has a direct correlation to the bottom of the structure and what happens to its base. One misguided or negative leader, at any point in the structure, can derail the messages and gains of positive leadership from above and prevent them from ever reaching the lower levels of the chain. This ultimately effects the community.

8 Trickle-Down Leadership Thoughts:

  • A law enforcement agency’s leadership style starts at the top, flows through the organization, and has a direct impact on the community it serves – positive or negative.
  • Leaders throughout the agency, not through carrots and sticks, but by example teach officers how to act, how to treat, and how much effort to give the community it serves.
  • The strength of the paramilitary model of leadership is also its greatest weakness if its values are not clearly defined and communicated through all levels. Create a written document of positive core leadership expectations that every officer is raised on from their first days in patrol.
  • Develop a testing process that promotes leaders within the organization who best represent the positive core leadership expectations of the organization; not just statistical producers or those with good managerial skills.
  • Successful law enforcement agencies that spend more time defining and reinforcing their mission, purpose, culture, and values spend less time creating policies, handling complaints, and dealing with discipline.
  • There is a direct connection between patrol officers and the community. Therefore, it is vital that law enforcement leaders treat their patrol officers with the same trust, dignity, and respect that the agency wants them to treat the community with.
  • Positive leadership is infectious (likely to be spread through the environment) and has long-term effectiveness on those around it. Negative, fear-based leadership is contagious (likely to be spread through direct contact) and has short-term effectiveness on those around it, but creates many long-term, negative consequences for both the people under that leadership and the agency.
  • At every level of the organization, each individual person has total control over the actions they take, the attitude they have, and the effort they give. True leaders provide the direction and an environment for them to succeed.

The concept is simple – Inspired leadership, improved policing, better communities. It all trickles down.


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!

A Simple Gesture

I am a police officer that just happens to have the rank of sergeant. I have 8 police officers that work with me to keep the community we serve safe on one of the toughest work schedules and largest districts in the department.

One week a few months ago, due to scheduling issues out of my control, my squad of 8 officers was reduced to just 4. I knew that we were going to be slammed handling the same amount of calls for service that usually come in, but with half the number of officers.

At the beginning of each shift that week, I walked into the briefing room and extended my hand to my 4 officers for a handshake. I told them that I appreciated them being there and for all of the hard work that we knew was ahead of us.

What I found was that the simple action of shaking their hands in advance of what was before us served two purposes:

  1. The handshakes demonstrated respect for my officers by showing appreciation for their presence in the face of a tough situation.
  2. The handshakes also negated the negative of the situation and turned it into a positive to be fought through as a team, not to be put out by.

In recognizing the power of this simple action, I felt compelled to find a way to continue building the same connection with my officers that started with these simple gestures. With the busy week over, I had the weekend to consider how I was going to use it going forward.

I walked into our squad briefing the next Wednesday and looked around at my 8 young officers ready to hit the road. Without thinking about it for a second, I extended my hand and began walking around the room shaking each of their hands and saying, “Thanks for being here.”

To this day, I start every Wednesday briefing just like that. Do not underestimate the power of a simple gesture and the positive effect it can have on your officers.

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. 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!

Culture in Just 4 Words

THE SETUP: A few months ago, another sergeant asked how my squad of mostly brand new police officers was having such great success on the road and in the community. I attributed it to the culture that we had created as a squad in the briefing room and then worked hard to exemplify each shift on the road. When he asked what my squad’s culture was, I quickly rattled just 4 words – Positivity, Activity, Teamwork, and Humility. As I said these 4 words aloud, the other sergeant looked at me like I was holding out on him and I replied, “No really . . . that is our culture in just 4 words and it works.”

THEN IT HITS ME: The realization that came to me as we continued this conversation was that a strong, sustainable culture should be just that easy to define, explain, understand, and apply. Culture has to be tangible and not just something that is said. It also has to be easily articulable and reproducible by all that are involved within it.

THE HOW: I pulled out a piece of paper and divided it into 4 boxes. At the top of each box I wrote one of the words that I had told the other sergeant about – Positivity, Activity, Teamwork, and Humility. Knowing that culture is defined by our actions and attitudes, I made sure that I could define each of the words in terms of both. Here is what I came up with . . .


  • Know your “why.”
  • Community service – treat everyone with dignity and respect.
  • Do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.
  • Recognize each other for good police work.


  • Strive to be the most active squad in the city.
  • Calls for service are our priority, but initiative fills the gaps.
  • Take pride in your beat, know your beat, and work it as such.
  • Be a leader on calls – step up where others fear to.


  • We before I.
  • Many hands make light work – have a “how can I help” mentality.
  • We back each other up – stay safe.
  • No gossip, no complaining – find solutions.


  • Get involved – policing is experiential learning.
  • Don’t fear mistakes, learn from them.
  • Remain humble and continue learning.
  • Take training seriously; continue growing throughout your career.

The above 4 words and defining bullet points are what best describe the actions and attitudes of my squad and what we want to project to everyone we interact with in the department and the community. The next step was presenting it to the squad.

THE PRESENTATION: On the presentation day, I explained to my 7 officers the conversation I had with that other sergeant and how this all got started. As I spoke about each of the 4 words and their corresponding bullet points, I used specific examples of times when I had seen these actions and attitudes displayed previously by them. I wrote each of the words on the outside of a box that I had drawn on the whiteboard. When everything was said and done, I explained that if everything they said or did on this job could fall into the confines of this box then they would know that they were doing policing the right way. It is only when actions and/or attitudes don’t fit into that box that problems occur and build distrust between police departments and their communities.

REINFORCEMENT: Whenever a new squad member comes to the squad, I go over these same 4 words in the same way as described above. The only thing that changes are newer, better examples. This serves 2 purposes. First, it reinforces the importance of our culture to the officers that have heard it before and keeps it fresh in their memory. Secondly, by going over this on the new officer’s very first day of joining the squad it solidifies how important we take our culture and begins to quickly assimilate them into the fold. If there are no new officers coming to the squad, then I make sure it gets discussed at least once every couple of months.

Between squad expectation presentations, it is vital to positively reinforce the desired culture. Whenever my officers handle a tough call, solve a problem, or demonstrate a great attitude about a tough situation; I make sure to mention it in briefing the next day and thank them for their outstanding service and commitment to our squad expectations. I make sure to specifically attribute whatever they did to the word(s) it best corresponds to. Culture in 4 words has gone over even better than I expected. In fact, they now recognize each other in briefing when they see something on a call that I was not able to get to. This reinforcement creates a positive cycle that just continues building and building and building.

THE CHALLENGE: Obviously, if you are still reading this far into the blog I have peaked your interest. Answer the following questions to get you started . . .

  1. If your squad was running exactly the way you wanted it to, what 4 words would you chose to describe your squad’s culture?
  2. Once you know your 4 words, list 3 – 5 specific actions or attitudes for each word that exemplify specifically how you would like to see that word expressed by your officers.
  3. Present your 4 words to your squad.
  4. Take the time and make opportunities to positively reinforce the 4 words of your culture.

Squad expectations need to be about establishing culture; not rules. Police departments have plenty of rules, laws, and policies to follow; that’s what those big books of general orders and revised statutes are for. If you get the culture right; the rules will take care of themselves. So, I challenge you to discover your 4 words and get them out there to your squad.

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. 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!

HELP WANTED: Police Officers

In August of 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton led the Endurance Expedition on a voyage to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. Prior to the expedition, Shackleton needed to raise a crew and posted the following help wanted advertisement:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.”

Even after posting such an unflattering advertisement of the trip ahead, sailor’s responded. In the book, “Quit You Like Men” by Carl Hopkins Elmore, Shackleton said that the response to the advertisement was so overwhelming that “it seemed as though all the men of Great Britain were determined to accompany him.”

By January 1915, the Endurance had become trapped in the thick Antarctic ice and began to break apart forcing Shackleton and the crew to abandon it. They had to set out on foot dragging lifeboats and supplies across the ice for any chance of survival. Eventually they located a suitable place to establish a camp. Shackleton realized that in order to survive they were going to need to take matters into their own hands; so they developed a rescue plan to seek out help.

Prior to Shackleton leaving on the rescue mission, a crew leader told Shackleton, “Whatever happens, we all know that you have worked superhumanly to look after us.”  Shackleton replied, “My job is to get my men through all right. Superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn unless it achieves results.” To make a great, long story short, it was only through the crew’s dedication and Shackleton’s leadership that they were eventually rescued over a year after the ship had become trapped. This is a fabulous story of leadership, sacrifice, and survival, but what really caught my attention was still the unflattering help wanted advertisement that attracted such a positive response from prospective sailors.

With the current climate surrounding law enforcement, how would a help wanted advertisement have to read in order to be just as truthful and unflattering, yet attract exactly the type of people we want in policing? Maybe it would read something like this . . .

HELP WANTED: Men and women wanted for hazardous 20 – 25 year career. Long hours during all times of day and night enforcing laws created by politicians you don’t necessarily agree with. Low to moderate wages protecting and serving a community that you may not even live in. Solve problems and risk life regularly for people that you don’t know and possibly don’t even like you while constantly transitioning between the roles of counselor, guardian, enforcer, educator, warrior, caretaker, and community representative. All interactions with the community must be recorded on video. Actions, especially mistakes, will be highly critiqued, criticized, and possibly penalized. Honor and recognition in event of success.

Honor and recognition in event of success . . . is that all it takes? Yep, along with being part of something greater than yourself and believing that on each and every call you have the ability to make a difference in another person’s life. Those are the results that we, those that call ourselves police officers, are looking for when we chose this career. As Shackleton stated, “Superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn unless it achieves results.” That is why we make the “superhuman effort” for a job that has this kind of description.

So, how do we maintain this level of effort? We remember our “why” . . .

Why did I chose to be a police officer?

Why did I chose to be a leader of police officers?

If you read those questions and cannot articulate an answer, or worse don’t remember, then I challenge you to sit down, brainstorm some ideas, and seek the words that describe why you were inspired to choose a career with this type of help wanted advertisement.

As soon as the right words come together and you can clearly articulate them, put them somewhere very safe where they cannot be forgotten. Your “why” will get you through that 20 – 25 years career just as it got Shackleton and his men through their expedition without a single life lost. If you get the privilege to lead officers through their policing careers, share your “why” often to motivate and inspire greatness in them so that they too may receive “honor and recognition in event of success.”

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!

3 Components to Law Enforcement Leadership

There is a simple formula for effective law enforcement leadership and it’s made up of just 3 components. First, build positivity within your officers. Next, make your officers feel like they belong. Lastly, give your officers direction. Below are the 3 components to law enforcement leadership and a few examples of how leaders can apply each of them to their team, squad, district, precinct, or department.

  1. Build positivity within your officers.

People are instinctively drawn to things that make them feel positive about themselves. As a leader it is imperative to consider how your actions and attitude make others feel about themselves. After someone is done talking to you or after you finish conducting a briefing, what is the general feeling when it is over – do they feel positive or negative? Here are 3 ways to make officers feel positive about themselves when you are around . . .

  • Help officers identify and remember their “why.”
  • Recognize and reward good police work routinely.
  • Find ways to serve those you wish to lead.
  1. Make your officers feel like they belong.

As police officers, there is already a jump start on this component due to the natural brother/sisterhood created just by putting on the badge. But, it is vital to maintain that feeling throughout the entirety of a 20 – 30 year career and to do that it must be a major component of your leadership. Develop a team within your realm of leadership and bring the officers that work with you into the fold as quickly as possible.

  • Build a team atmosphere where everyone works together to create success.
  • Create a positive environment that focuses on solutions to problems as opposed to mindlessly complaining.
  • Develop a “what can I do” mentality among your officers.
  1. Give your officers a direction.

Some call it a vision, some call it a mission; whatever term is used officers need to know the direction they are expected to go and the plan to get there. Therefore, it is incumbent on the leader to define the officers’ roles with clear expectations about every aspect of policing: how to treat people, production, attitude, etc.

  • Build culture with clear squad expectations that address both actions and attitudes.
  • Develop informal leaders within the squad to assist in perpetuating the squad culture.
  • Be out on the road with your officers demonstrating your expectations.

What’s challenging about these components is that they require working with both people and their feelings. Those are not simple challenges to address in the law enforcement world; especially feelings. Not many supervisors are willing to venture into that realm, but those that strive to be the best leaders will because they recognize the benefits that can be had.

What’s rewarding about these components is that when they all come together, it creates an environment that is just incredible to work in for both the supervisor and the officers. It allows the spirit of leadership to thrive and the officers within that environment to be both inspired and motivated to do policing and serve their communities.

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!

Transactional vs. Relational Policing

As a law enforcement supervisor, have you ever tried to explain to someone what good policing is? Sometimes putting things into words can be an extremely difficult task. If you are like me, the first hundred times you try to answer this question you find yourself jetting off into all these tangents about handling calls, traffic enforcement, conducting thorough investigations, making big busts, taking down the “really bad guys,” and somewhere in there working with the community. By the time you get done it feels like you just named off a bunch of different tasks and never really answered the question – What is good policing?

One night, I was driving in for my overnight shift listening to the “EntreLeadership” podcast and they were interviewing a gentleman named Mick Ebeling. What really struck me was when Mr. Ebeling began talking about transactional and relational marketing as it relates to his non-profit organization. Mr. Ebeling did not invent these concepts, but it was the first time I had ever heard them explained. I realized that the concept of relational marketing is 100% applicable to explaining what good policing is. I knew that if I could put what good policing is into words, it would be that much easier to explain to my officers what we should be doing out in the community . . . let me explain.

Transactional and Relational Marketing defined . . .

Transactional Marketing: Transactional marketing is focused solely on the actual sales process for an item and may include aggressive tactics that alienate the customer. The emphasis is on getting the deal done right now with little thought about future sales or the customer ever returning. For example, think of the car salesman that will do or say anything to keep you from getting off the lot without one of their vehicles being purchased. You either purchase the vehicle and feel dirty for it or you become so alienated that you never return to that dealership again.

Relational Marketing: Relational marketing is focused on developing a relationship between the customer and the salesperson or business. Because of the relationship, customers feel loyal to that company and return for future purchases. For example, a non-profit organization tells you the story of the person that you will be helping by donating the equivalent of “just a cup of coffee a day.” There is a relationship built between you and the person you will be helping; the non-profit organization is the intermediary. The relationship is the priority in this type of marketing with the hope being that you return to donate regularly to help support that person and their cause.

So, let’s take those same concepts and replace the term “marketing” with “policing” . . .

Transactional and Relational Policing defined . . .

Transactional Policing: Transactional policing is focused solely on the process and may include aggressive tactics that alienate the community. This comes out in policing primarily when we are overly focused on statistical production: handling calls for service as fast as possible, writing as many tickets as possible, or making as many arrests as possible with little regard for the community as a whole.

One excellent example of transactional policing is photo radar – photo radar is all about the transaction between a vehicle speeding and the associated monetary fine. There is absolutely no relationship developed which explains why there is such a visceral hatred of photo radar tickets from many in the community. If you are reading this example and thinking, “yeah, but there isn’t a person involved in photo radar tickets,” my reply would simply be to ask if you have ever been pulled over by a motor officer? It often goes something like this . . .

MOTOR: License, registration, insurance…

DRIVER: Here’s my license and I’ll have to look for the registration and insurance.

MOTOR: Do you know why I stopped you?

DRIVER: No, not really. (Or insert generic excuse for bad driving here.)

MOTOR: You were doing 58 mph in the posted 45 mph zone. Wait here.

MOTOR: (5 seconds later) Here’s your ticket for speeding, no registration, no proof of insurance, the cracked windshield, and I also noticed that you have a white light to the rear. Your options for taking care of the ticket are on the back.

Traffic stop complete in 54.3 seconds, 5 violations written, and the motor pulls away to make another traffic stop before the driver even knows what happened. This is obviously an exaggerated example, but you get my drift – no relationship developed. Similar scenarios can be played out while handling calls for service or conducting investigations, if the emphasis is solely on getting them done as quickly as possible or getting as many as possible.

Relational Policing: Relational policing is focused on developing a relationship between the community member(s) and the officer(s) they come into contact with. Because of the relationship, the community member(s) feels a sense of loyal to that officer(s) and ultimately each is more cooperative with the other. Overtime, this type of policing develops a stronger relationship between the police department and the community they serve.

Let’s go back to our traffic stop example; this time with an emphasis on developing the relationship between the officer and driver . . .

OFFICER: Good evening, do you have your license registration, and insurance?

DRIVER: Here’s my license and I’ll have to look for the registration and insurance.

OFFICER: Other than this, how has the rest of your day been?

DRIVER: OK, but long. I was trying to get home a little quicker than I should have to get dinner ready. (Hands officer registration and insurance.)

OFFICER: Yeah, you were doing 58 mph in the posted 45 mph zone. We’ve been working a lot of traffic enforcement in this area due to the high number of collisions recently. Wait in your vehicle and I’ll be right back up.

OFFICER: (Returns after writing the ticket) Like I said earlier, I had you at 58 mph in the posted 45 mph zone. Your options for taking care of this are . . . (provides explanation) . . . Do you have any questions for me? Have a better day.

While this example is obviously based upon a cooperative driver, many times even an argumentative driver can be won over by just doing some of the basic relationship building concepts exhibited. Some of the key points include asking how they are doing outside of this experience, giving them time to actually answer your questions or complete requests, provide a reason for your actions, and provide an explanation for how they can take care of the ticket. Simple concepts based on treating people with dignity and respect, can be applied in nearly every law enforcement encounter we go on; as officer safety allows. Obviously during instances of emergency response or use of force situations, this is secondary to the welfare of citizens and officers; but these situations make up a small percentage of our total daily interactions with the community.

DO NOT misunderstand this concept, this is NOT about “hug a thug,” only give warnings, do not make arrests, kissing babies, and pretending the world is a completely safe place. The concept of relational policing is about spending an extra couple of seconds on each traffic stop, call for service, investigation, foot patrol, etc. to build a relationship with community members whether they are reporting parties, victims, bystanders, concerned neighbors, or even suspects.

Still wondering if it works? To date, I have physically placed handcuffs on and arrested approximately 1,500 people for various crimes. Of those, only 5 have ever fought with me getting into those cuffs. I do not attribute this to luck, I attribute it to the fact that I received some very good advice earlier in my career to treat everyone with dignity and respect until they showed they deserved otherwise. This is not an easy task, but it has served me well over the years and when I heard the aforementioned podcast talking about relational marketing it gave me words to describe how good policing should be – relational.

Being a leader is about building relationships. The better relationships you build, the better leader you will be. As law enforcement officers, regardless of rank, we need to build relationships both with those we work with and with the communities we serve so we can lead them properly. As the 21st century continues on and law enforcement works towards solutions regarding negative LE perceptions, I believe that relational policing provides a no cost way of beginning to work on many of these issues. The challenge is that there must be law enforcement leaders willing to stand up in briefing rooms, training environments, and command staff meetings open to putting new, viable solutions out there that answer the question – What is good policing?

Good policing is relational policing.

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!

7 Core Values for Building a Team – Part 2

This blog is Part 2 of 7 Core Values for Building a Team. If you would like to read Part 1, click here.

  1. Build unity and loyalty.

Unity and loyalty . . . Aren’t those 2 of the greatest words to have around when it comes to being part of a team? When unity and loyalty are present, trust is flowing in all directions within the squad, precinct, district, or department – top down, bottom up, and laterally. But, there is a caveat to this and that is that there are just some people that won’t buy-in to the concepts that help build a good team. Regardless of the amount of effort expended on creating the right environment, they will just never get it. So, the leader has 2 options. They can decide that they are just not going to do anything to build a team and therefore they lose everyone. Or, they can work hard to build a team and get the buy-in of the vast majority of the people to create something really special within their department. There is no great secret to building unity and loyalty. It is one of the oldest concepts around. Treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s it. If you want to build unity and loyalty, then no matter how difficult the situation is, just ask, “How would I want someone to treat me under these circumstances?” The consistent practice of that concept will take a person a long way in their growth as a leader that creates positive cultures based upon unity and loyalty.

  1. Exemplify and expect personal accountability.

Personal accountability is a tough one for many because it means stepping up and taking responsibility when the world is falling apart around them and/or their team. Personal accountability is easy when everything is going great, but not so much when things are turbulent. Leaders must be cautious about forcing personal accountability upon their teams because if it gets crammed down their throats, they will immediately reject it. To bring personal accountability to the team, the leader must first exemplify it to their officers to show how it is done and how it leads to positive growth both personally and for the team as a whole. They need to see it first because the greatest fear in applying personal accountability is that they are going to get themselves into some kind of trouble when they do it. The best thing about applying personal accountability is that it puts the leader in control of the situation. The leader is saying through their actions and attitude that “the buck stops here.” Once that control is accepted, the leader must begin asking questions that lead to solutions and not allow themselves to fall into a victim mentality. Here are some examples of personal accountability questions – What can I do? How can I learn from this mistake? What can I do to make a difference today? How can I be better? Because each of these questions is based on the concept of “I,” it puts the leader in control of developing a solution to whatever the problem is. After the team sees personal accountability applied by the leader day in and day out, they will also begin applying it to their tough situations. Having a culture based upon personal accountability is one of the biggest differences between having a culture of mediocrity and a culture of excellence.

  1. Show recognition.

All of the above listed concepts are great, but they do not mean a thing if they are not engrained into the culture of the team. A leader has the amazing opportunity to pick and choose what gets engrained into a team’s culture by being selective of the actions and attitudes they recognize, reward, and promote. But, it all starts with the leader first having a vision of where they want the team to go and how they want them to get there. They must define the path and the goals to be achieved if the path is followed. Then, the leader must focus on finding behaviors that officers are doing that support that vision. When actions and attitudes are present that support the leader’s vision, it is imperative of the leader to recognize them and find ways to reward them for the behavior. One of the simplest rewards a leader has at their disposal is verbal praise. When giving verbal praise, do not just say, “Good job;” be specific about what the behavior was that made it good. If the leader says, “Good job, I really like the way you took the time to calm that victim down before doing the interview,” then not only has the leader praised the officer, but they have defined what exactly the behavior was they liked. After recognizing and rewarding something like that, what do you think that officer is going to do they next time they interview a really traumatized victim? That’s right, they are going to take the extra couple of minutes to talk to the victim on a human-level before getting down to the facts of the situation. After recognizing and rewarding the behavior, it must be promoted. One way to promote positive behaviors is to bring them up in briefing with the rest of the team around. This creates a second opportunity for the leader to recognize/reward the officer and then promotes it to the other member of the team. Obviously, the bigger and better the behavior, the more substantial the recognition, reward, and promotion should be. For example, if due to the heroic actions of an officer a person’s life is saved, then hopefully the department has some kind of official life saving award that can be given to the officer and thus the promotion of the behaviors goes to the highest ranks of the department. The key is to remember that what gets rewarded gets repeated.

  1. Make people feel safe.

To build a team, a leader must make the people on the team feel safe. Safe is not referring to the inherent dangers of the job. Safe, in these terms, means from the internal turmoil that can be present within an organization or the team itself. When there is turmoil within a group, like backstabbing, complaining, or general apathy, then no member of the team will ever feel safe within the group because they are always worried about what is going on when they aren’t around. It isn’t until they feel safe within their team that they can go out into the community and do their best work because they know that the team has their back. Creating that sense of safety is the job of the leader. When there is safety within the team, the natural reaction is the development of trust and cooperation. Trust and cooperation will lead people to do amazing things; things that are above and beyond the call of duty. When an officer stays late to help another officer impound a bunch of evidence, that shows that they have a level of trust and cooperation built. That trust and cooperation comes back in spaded when that other officer is wounded on a call and the team comes together to rescue him or her in the face of danger. In order for this level of trust and cooperation to exist, everyone must believe at their core that the other members of the team would be willing to do the same thing for them. Ultimately, people just want to feel like they belong. If there is a strong sense of belonging among the members of the team, then trust and cooperation will flourish among the group.

Instead of looking at culture, vision, mission, purpose, alignment, and value as 6 different items that a leader must work at getting across to their group, look at it as the single task of building a team. Think back to the best teams you were ever a part of and ask what it was that made those teams so special. What you’ll find is that the team had culture, vision, mission, purpose, alignment, and value in what they were doing. By building a team, the leader is creating a lens which each individual officer can look through as they go about doing their job each shift and see things in a similar manner instead of through just their own individual perspectives. Only then will officers be willing to drop their own personal agendas and give their blood, sweat, and tears for the good of the organization and the community.

If you would like to read further about these concepts, here are some good reading suggestions:

“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek

“Entreleadership” by Dave Ramsey

“QBQ! The Question Behind the Question” by John Miller

“The Energy Bus” or any other book by Jon Gordon

“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek

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!