Organizational leadership?

Leadership and organizations come in many forms in our society. Corporations function in multi-tiered international  layers and must constantly evolve in order to remain relevant to consumers. Those that do not slowly wither away and cease to exist, those in power are replaced preemptively, or a corporation is consumed by a buyout or merger.

One of the keys to remaining in business is utilizing fresh new ideas from the workforce in order to increase efficiency or take on the development and production of a new widget that breathes life into the organization. Businesses fostering this type of development reward employees who work hard in advancing the aims of the organization.  Focusing on employee morale goes a long way to develop the environment in which these new ideas flourish.  Happy employees will do as much as they can for supervisors that show support and respect.

Government organizations do not have the worry of ceasing to exist for failing to adjust to the needs of the community. Law enforcement agencies are especially susceptible to simply existing in spite of their employees and community. The unfortunate reality is that many law enforcement agencies in our country are stuck in a repetitive cycle with no end in sight.

Most law enforcement agencies in the US have adopted a paramilitary rank structure for the purposes of institutional command and control.  This is not necessarily an example of the “militarization of policing”, but is more semantic in nature.  It is easier to mirror the military rank structure than to develop something else.  When properly implemented, it works very well.

There have been glaring examples of failure in the military leadership model, but as a whole it has served well for the most powerful military in the world.  Generals and Admirals fully understand that they do not personally bring the battle to our foes.  As a result, flag and staff officers entrust company level officers with furthering the task and purpose of an operation, be it in training or in armed conflict.  Company officers relay the command intent to noncommissioned officers who suffer next to their men and women and ultimately carry out the mission.

Law enforcement administrators with no knowledge of the actual military leadership theory which decentralizes decision making and encourages small unit problem solving revel in the misguided belief that they are the all knowing and all powerful deities to whom the fiefdom must abide.  The paramilitary organizational structure becomes rife with intellectual incest as out of touch managers suffer from overinflated senses of self worth while those who recognize problem areas swallow counterpoints in an effort to continue to exist in their own comfortable office and in the good graces of the institutional monarch.  Over time, the mid-level managers who have stifled their own integrity and sensibilities come to accept the doctrine as the organizational way of the world and continue in that path as they are promoted.

Those who do not immediately step in line with the decisions and decrees of the star and oak leaf cluster wearing crowd are deemed a threat to organizational loyalty.  As a result of presenting a challenge to an impending poor decision, the well intentioned receives the institutional hammer. If the situation repeats itself, a larger hammer is used to drive the peg in place to suit the incestuous thought processes of the executive staff.  Eventually the “peg” grows tired of receiving the “wack-a-mole” treatment and retreats in self-preservation.  The hammer drivers celebrate their collective victory.  The remainder of the agency, armed with the basic caveman-like concept of “fire hot, fire burn” seeks to avoid inserting themselves into the “wack-a-mole” game.

This unfortunate reality is played out at agencies across our nation.  Chiefs and Sheriffs who are not comfortable enough in their own skin surround themselves with supporting staffs that are “yes” men and women.  Those who sit idle in mid-level supervision ranks long enough are rewarded for doing nothing by receiving promotions that are above their own skill set.  In fear of having his or her lack of competency exposed by someone who is actually competent, the newly promoted sack continues the cycle of self-preservation.

Line level supervisors who decide to pucker up and plant both lips squarely on the pant seats of the star and oak leaf cluster club are as transparent as they come and lose all credibility with the troops and his or her peers.  These are the folks that you’ll find driving in the opposite direction of the in-progress violent call so they can take coffee to whichever member of the club requested it.

An officer’s job is easier if line level supervisors pop a bullshit umbrella over their span of control.  Those of you who have held an umbrella in a storm know that umbrellas are not a perfect buffer, some bullshit will still hit your shoulders as you stand underneath, but drips of shit are better than buckets.  Eventually a line level supervisor may decide that it is time to stick a quarter in the old wack-a-mole game because he or she can’t bare holding the umbrella anymore.  Bam! The cycle repeats.  The supervisor then finds that the field in which he or she has been cultivating all of his or her agency-related “fucks” is now barren.

An agency in this cycle may not show outward symptoms to the casual observer.  Officers grow accustomed to rides on the non-lubricated big blue weenie; there are plenty of things we are expected to do that we do not particularly enjoy but understand as part of the job.  Agencies involved in this type of spiral become spring board agencies fairly quickly.  Folks get hired, complete the academy, get experience, and get the hell out.  Cops rarely leave agencies for pay.  They leave because of poor leadership.

So the question becomes, how as a law enforcement community nationwide do we stop this poor management cycle?

As a cop, I’m a part of the American criminal justice system.  It also has it’s faults, but one of the basic tenants is that of offender rehabilitation.  The first step to fixing a problem is admitting one exists.  If you are a card carrying member of the star and oak leaf cluster club and are somehow experiencing “butt hurtedness” about the preceding words, break out a handy-dandy notebook and crayon, because that’s a clue.  You have a problem, admit it.

Once you can admit it to  yourself, admit it to your agency.  In spite of what you may think, people under your command will come out and support you in righting the ship.

Step three is fostering an environment where you make decisions based on the welfare of your employees.  Mission accomplishment is always first.  You will never make everyone happy.  But, honest and earnest efforts to make a cop’s life better will turn morale back to an upward swing.  Cops love gear and equipment, but that is not the answer.  You can’t buy love.  Cops who receive unending agency support for doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons will run through a brick wall under a hail of gunfire for you.

Once morale starts headed the right direction, the supporting cast of the star and oak leaf cluster crowd need to receive proper guidance and training.  They have tasks to accomplish, and one of those primary tasks is to offer sincere and appropriate counterpoints to agency-wide change.  They should be encouraged to speak out in opposition so that all sides to a decision are considered. Opposition is not disrespectful; it should be expected and demanded of the executive staff and their direct reports.

When a once spiraling agency regains a mindful and righteous cultural environment where open debate of pending policy changes and personnel issues is encouraged, and support is given where support is due, the transformation is complete.

This isn’t some sort of hippy bullshit.  I’m not fond of the idea of hugging it out and singing “kumbaya” during staff meetings.  This is a roadmap for actual change.  It isn’t new either, the  Greek philosopher and soldier Xenophon had it figured out in about 300 B.C.  He stated “the leader must himself believe that willing obedience always beats forced obedience, and that he can get this only by really knowing what should be done.  Thus he can secure obedience from his men because he can convince them that he knows best, precisely as a good doctor makes his patients obey him”.

Perhaps as a member of the star and oak leaf cluster club, you think this road map will lead you down a road that you aren’t comfortable driving.  If you see it that way and think Xenophon had it wrong, maybe you should familiarize yourself with Julius Caesar.  Being an asshole dictator worked out really well for him.

If you aren’t a member of that exclusive club and find yourself in the middle of a shit storm, I feel for you.  Life is cyclical in nature, this too shall pass.  Make the choice to either be an agent of change in your own agency or change agencies.  Best of luck either way, and watch your six.

It’s time to go patrol the Donut…






About donutcountycop

I am a husband, father, and coach who began a career in law enforcement at a very small agency in 2003. After a deployment to Iraq with the USMC reserve in 2004, I changed agencies and moved to a “donut county” that borders a major US city in 2006. My current agency is composed of about 50 sworn officers, and is the busiest agency in our part of the donut. I am currently a mid-level supervisor who is in charge of a night shift, and serve the department in many other areas that include SWAT, FTO, and primary instruction. I’ve been around long enough to lose the illusion that I have every answer to every problem and now fully understand that my experiences have prepared me for little else than a life of wearing a badge and pistol.
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One Response to Organizational leadership?

  1. Pingback: If we were having coffee… | Donut County Cop

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