The Hollywood version of the grizzled veteran beat cop riding
with a fresh-out-of-the wrapper rookie as his new trainee is well
established. It may still even be true
in some cases. But the vast majority of
police departments are seeing a shift in their recruiting demographics that
demands a more heuristic approach to field training.
Older applicants are
likely to be more educated and more mature. These kinds of people applying to
become police officers, these “rookies,” require a different approach by their
training officers during field training to optimize their acquisition as ready
officers into the force.
department field training program looks like, you can apply the
Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership II (SL II) Model to match experienced
Field Training Officers (FTOs) to trainees based upon their competence and willingness.
According to an article by Purdue University
professor Ron Goodnight, “You Are
Responsible For Your Own Destiny,” the situational leadership model
initially developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard and later expanded as the
Situational Leadership II model by Blanchard, is a valid educational model designed
using their principles.
A situational approach is used based upon the amount of
control and direction (Directive Behavior) needed by the FTO compared to the
amount of encouragement and support (Supportive Behavior) needed. The needs
vary depending upon the specific quadrant in which the majority of the trainees
lay. This is determined by their course content knowledge and skills
(competence) or task maturity. Their commitment or confidence level is also a
factor in determining readiness for assuming responsibility in directing their own
Telling, Directing, Instructing, Training: In quadrant S-l the trainees are generally
insecure and lack competence even though they are usually highly committed. The
FTO’s role is that of teaching or training requisite knowledge and skills. This
is the foundation-laying situation where the instructor educates the students,
imparts specific knowledge and provides close supervision and direction in
projects. It can be summed up as “read a step, do a step, eat a banana.” This
is the usual phase during the beginning of most training courses and is also
common when new course content is introduced.
Selling, Coaching, Advising:
Quadrant S-2 requires more supportive behavior on behalf of the FTO. The
trainees are now more self directive but they still lack sufficient competency
or task maturity to fully function independently. The instructor's role is more
of selling, advising and coaching. Most decisions are still largely the
responsibility of the instructor who thoroughly explains them and provides for
ample clarification. This is primarily a dialogue stage, initiated by the FTO,
to assure more competence and understanding by the students. This is where the trainee has their “Why?”
Supporting, Participating, Consulting: The third quadrant, S-3, is a much more
involved situation. Here the trainees are more competent and mature so they
assume the majority of the responsibility in conducting their own tasks,
learning and decisions. The FTO functions as a resource, facilitates
discussions, as needed, and shares ideas. Normally, the trainees are required
to present their decisions and actions to the FTO and explain their reasoning
processes. Further, trainees often must specify what they learned and how they
can apply it outside the training environment.
The S-4 fourth quadrant allows the trainees full responsibility and
empowerment. They are expected to demonstrate their learning(s) in their police
work-social role. This is truly self-learning as they experience the successes
and difficulties in the situational applications of their police work.
This four quadrant approach has been successfully used two
ways. Evaluating the commitment and
maturity level of the trainee will allow the FTO a better idea of where the
trainee falls upon the developmental gradient.
Treating the trainee as an adult learner, even though their specific
task level may be low for a particular task or skill, will enhance their
ability to learn a task faster and retain it longer. FTOs should be aware that a trainee is
expected to move back and forth along this gradient as they face new situations
they have not experienced.
For example, a trainee can be at D/R4, able, willing, and
confident after responding to their 15th traffic stop in field
training, but that will not prepare them for their first response to a deceased
victim—they will be right back at D/R1 for that situation. So a foreseeing FTO will change their
approach back along the quadrants to more of an S-1 style given this new
The second way this model can be successful is by using it
to craft the evaluation process trainees go through to become “fully
qualified”. A phased approach to field
training fits precisely with the quadrant approach of the SL II model. The purpose of a field training program
should be to produce a “fully qualified”, if inexperienced, stand-alone police
If a trainee is treated, and reacts, to situations like a
trainee, and never reaches a fully confident, able, and willing patrol officer,
they are a detriment to the force.
“Paying your dues”, as older police officers often lament, is just
another way of saying gradually move from D/R1 to D/R4. Evaluations should reflect expectations
driven competencies both along the developmental gradient and the FTO style of
leadership. A disconnect should be a
“red flag” of concern.
Trainees, especially non-traditional trainees, should be
taught as adults. The idea that departments still take high school graduates
directly into training is becoming more rare.
As the military continues to draw down, many departments have seen a
dramatic increase in soldiers retraining to become police officers. Following the adult learning guidelines as
codified in the H-B SL II model will greatly enhance a trainees learning.
And this method of teaching is much more fun than the child
oriented, lecture type method. Many techniques can be used, of which the Hershey-Blanchard
situational leadership model is only one example. Whatever method is used, however, trainers
should remember that we are trying to produce a stand-alone police officer, not
a proficient trainee.
The combined Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership II
Cpl. Kevin A. Smith of the Wilmington NC Police
Department is currently the Deputy Public Information Officer, and has been a
Patrol Officer, Juvenile Crimes Detective, and is a member of the department’s
Crisis Negotiation Team. Cpl Smith
retired from the United States Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel after over 20
years of service. He may be reached at Kevin.firstname.lastname@example.org.