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Go Ask the Leaders

Written by Ed Sanow

In past editorials, we have had leadership tips from Sun Tzu, the ancient warrior; Shakespeare, the Renaissance playwright; Dante, the Medieval poet; and Giuliani, America’s mayor. This time, it is from Jeremiah, the ancient biblical prophet.

Yep, if the message is from Jeremiah, you know the news is bad. However, since the problem is timeless, so is his advice. Actually, he is short on advice, but long on observations. Identifying the problem is half way there to solving it.

If things are not going well, it doesn’t seem to matter if it is a country, a business or a police department – the problem is always the same. And that means the solution is always the same.

Jeremiah looked up and down the streets and searched all of the squares. He found that everything was a mess. He could not find one person who dealt honestly and looked for the truth. All he found were people who told lies. Then it occurred to him – the people he saw were just poor, uneducated followers. They act that way simply because they didn’t know any better.

Jeremiah decided to go speak to the leaders of the city. Surely, the leaders of the city knew the right way. The people just had to be told to follow the leaders and the problem would be solved.

However, the problem was not that the people were not following their leaders. Just the opposite. When he met the leaders, Jeremiah realized the problem was the people were exactly following their leaders. The leaders set the example and the people followed that example – exactly how it always goes.

How come things are so messed up in your department? Yep, it is the ones in leadership positions. Sorry, but the really bad news is that it starts at the top. It trickles down like the domino effect from the chief to the lieutenants to the sergeants to the patrol officers. Don’t blame me for that assessment – blame Jeremiah.

My first thought (being a bit defensive) was that the problem could also be a disconnect somewhere in the chain. The chief and lieutenants can be totally squared away, but their must be a gap in communication to the sergeants, or a gap between the sergeants and patrol. Nice try. If the police management really is squared away, no gaps will exist – the disconnect will be discovered and fixed.

Bad leadership really does trickle down. So does good leadership. You probably won’t be able to send a lightning bolt from heaven to sort things out. But the situation can be fixed. First, see if you can find any obvious gaps, but your real start will probably be with the promotion and the recruiting processes.

Since the chief’s policies are most typically carried out by the sergeants, as much as possible, be sure the “right” people get promoted to front line supervision. These would be the sergeants who can be led, as opposed to the “stiff-necked” people who refuse to be led. You want the ones who will follow your policies even on the night shifts or far from in-car cameras – and pass that discipline on to patrol.

You are not looking for sergeant exam test scores – you are looking for attitude. And, yes, this selection process will be difficult, since they already work for the department and lots of promotion procedures are already in place. Without fixing this level, the next (easier) step, won’t move you any closer to solving the problem.

The next step is real activism on your part in the recruiting and hiring process. You are not looking for knowledge, skills and abilities. You have heard that before. Instead, you are looking for attitude and character – much harder to measure, but more important that the easier to measure part. You can teach them a skill. You cannot teach them attitude. It is all up to top management. It always has been.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2011

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