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Don’t Take It Personally
As supervisors, we are often called upon to direct our officers to perform tasks they would prefer not to do. Also, it is our duty to bring infractions or inappropriate behavior to their attention and insist that they take corrective action. When we engage in these supervisory activities, there can be a problem if the officer takes it personally.
Consequently, when our officers take directions personally, rather than accept their tasks as supervisory assignments necessary for efficient department operations, they may react negatively. The situation is compounded when that negative reaction is then taken personally by the supervisor. When emotionally charged personal feelings dominate supervisor / officer interactions, department operations will be adversely impacted.
It is desirable, of course, to take our officers’ feelings into account when performing our supervisory responsibilities. This requires us to treat each officer with dignity and respect. We must be professional at all times and make every effort to dispel any misconception that our actions are personal.
However, this does not mean we should be shy about discharging our supervisory obligations. We have a responsibility to see to it that the goals of our department are accomplished. We have an obligation to supervise our officers in a way that ensures professional and efficient service is provided to the community.
Supervisors cannot allow the tendency in some officers to take things personally to deter them from fulfilling their duties. They must be wary of officers who will try to engage the supervisor in a polemic that alleges the supervisor’s actions are personal.
The one certain leadership philosophy that decreases the likelihood that officers will take things personally is a commitment by the supervisor to never actually take any action that in fact is motivated by some personal animus. As we know, invariably, there will be officers who are difficult to like. Some officers may rub us the wrong way and get on our nerves. And, frankly, there may be an officer or two that we just flat out cannot abide. While we do not have to like everyone, as professionals, we must be vigilant to not let these personal feelings bleed into the supervisory process. This is very difficult to accomplish, but it is a leadership necessity.
How do supervisors avoid the trap of taking or making things personal? First, recognize that taking things personally gives the other person power over you. By chipping away at the armor of professionalism, the other person has exposed your Achilles heel.
A supervisor who allows emotions to dominate by taking something personally no longer controls the situation. That officer has exploited your weakness. Now that you are taking the officer’s remarks or actions personally, your supervisory purpose will suffer. Decisions will be based on negative emotions, rather than on a professional regard for what is best for the officer, the department and the community.
Also, understand that when you take things personally, you reveal certain self-centeredness. After all, generally the things our officers do or say have more to do with themselves than with you. It is not always about you as a supervisor and generally not about you as an individual either. Taking things personally exposes you as a narcissist, someone who sees things only as “for me or against me.” Such a perspective does make it very personal. An officer intent upon stripping you of your professionalism will use this self-absorption to full advantage.”
Finally, taking things personally is an indication that you are experiencing some insecurity in your leadership role. This insecurity, needless to say, can be exploited as well. Recognizing insecurity is the first step in decreasing its influence on your supervisory activities. Conquering your insecurity contributes to your professionalism by helping you to present a confident persona not conducive to emotional manipulation.
So, introspection should always be part and parcel of a leader’s responsibilities. Explore your own feelings. Recognizing and understanding your own motives assists you to resist the urge to take or make things personal. Then, come to terms with the fact that not all of your edicts or assignments will be well received. If you endeavor not to make decisions and assignments for personal reasons, then you are positioned not to take it personally when your officers grumble and complain.
The only thing truly acceptable to take personally is your commitment to the physical and emotional well-being of your officers, to the goals of your department, and to the safety and security of your community.
Robert Roy Johnson is a 37-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, currently at the rank of captain. A management consultant and speaker, Johnson is an adjunct professor in the Law Enforcement Management Program at Calumet College of Saint Joseph. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Apr 2008
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