Are your people overwhelmed with the demands of these tough budget times? Learn how to help them feel part of a winning team. (iStock Photo)
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
The bad news: Not too long ago I was asked to do a training titled Leading During Difficult Times. I asked my contact what she thought the top three challenges or concerns of those attending were. She reiterated what I’d been hearing across the nation:
- Budget cuts;
- Hiring freezes;
- Forced furloughs; and
- All resulting in chronic staffing problems which result in a whole other list of problems.
I murmured commiseration and summarized, “You mean: doing more with less.”
She replied, “Haven’t you heard? It’s now, ‘Doing everything with nothing?’”
Clearly I was behind the challenge curve of the times, which might best be summed up with a 2010 news article describing Arizona police officers laying one of their own to rest: "Lincoln two, Lincoln two. Last call for Lieutenant Shuhandler, last call for Lieutenant Shuhandler. Rest in peace, sir. We've got it from here."
As they remembered Eric Shuhandler in Gilbert, Ariz., officers from nearby Phoenix faced furloughs and layoffs. Outsiders might wonder what kind of person puts his life on the line when he knows he might get laid off the next week. You, dear readers, know what kind. You need only look in the mirror.
Still, law enforcement leaders may be wondering how to lead and inspire officers and staff during these particularly tough times. Times that, beyond the accepted dangers of the work, are demanding people do everything with nothing. In some cash-strapped cities employees are assuming dual jobs, like the Buckeye, Ariz., firefighters who are also managing a municipal cemetery.
The Good News
Where’s the good news in people being asked to do everything with nothing? Clearly, it calls for heroic efforts. The good news is that money isn’t what inspires people to accomplish the heroic.
We’ve known this for more than 50 years. Frederick Herzberg is regarded as one of the great original thinkers in management and motivational theory. His 1968 publication, One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?, was the most requested article from the Harvard Business Review.
In his seminal book, The Motivation to Work, Herzberg’s research determined that once people feel they are fairly compensated, the promise of more money doesn’t inspire them to extraordinary effort.
The Harvard Business Review is telling America’s business leaders, “People do work for money … but they work even more for meaning in their lives.”
In Beyond Manipulating and Motivating to Leading and Inspiring, Jim Clemmer continues with Herzberg’s work and concludes that what people want from their jobs are to:
- Take pride in their work;
- Be part of a winning team; and
- Work for an organization they believe in.
These are all motivational factors that leadership can and should provide. It takes no budget line item.
It’s People Who Perform the Mission
At a minimum, leaders must accomplish the mission. It’s people -- officers and staff -- who perform the mission. During these particularly trying times, leaders must take extra special care of their people.
There’s no more meaningful work than protecting and serving the people in our communities. Law enforcement leaders can remind officers and staff of this and thank them for having chosen such a noble profession.
Although leaders may not be able to get more money, they can solicit thanks from the community -- personal, heartfelt, genuine thanks -- from civic groups, public schools, community organizations and businesses. From rubber wristbands that say, “Thank You Blue. 24-7-365” to simple thank-you cards, an e-mail, a Facebook post or phone call, police leaders need to rally the community to express their appreciation for officers and department staff.
This may be difficult for leaders who are used to doing thankless work and not accustomed to drawing attention to themselves. Do it for your people. It’s about them, not you. In his article "Mastering the ABCs of Organizations," John Throop cites a study of Gen-X workers who determined their top work motivator was full appreciation for work done.
Make the Bosses Prioritize
Doing everything doesn’t mean there aren’t priorities. Where ever you are in the chain of command, make your boss prioritize.
If you’re the chief, make the mayor or city council prioritize. If you’re a patrol sergeant, make the lieutenant prioritize. If you’re the patrol officer, make your sergeant prioritize.
First, do your homework. Know what work is extraneous, how many goals are too many and what you think needs to be focused on.
Explain the projects or work you have, along with time estimates for each. And be realistic. Then ask your boss to prioritize what she wants done. The boss may not have a good grasp of the demands on your time but feel she can’t admit that. Describing your job requirements, asking your boss about her priorities and enlisting her to help you prioritize her demands will at least have you sharing expectations.
Agree that all your boss’ priorities are important but make her rank order them. Agree that you can’t do them all at once and that you will focus on the first three to five (be realistic). Set a time to revisit her priorities, discuss progress and re-evaluate focus.
Acknowledge What it Will Take
Don’t try and candy coat the circumstances. This isn’t the time to tell your officers and staff to look on the bright side or try and find a silver lining. Tell them you know they’re being asked to do everything with nothing, acknowledge that it will take heroic efforts on their part, and then tell them how grateful you are to work with heroes.
Your job as a law enforcement leader is to give them the vision of a winning team that is facing especially difficult times together. Don’t try and minimize the challenge. Make it heroic. People fight with you when they care about the battle. Asking people for small things makes them feel big. George Orwell said it well, “The high sentiments always win in the end, the leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.”
Make it Personal
In his book Muddy Boots Leadership, Maj. John Chapman, USA (Ret.) writes, "Five minutes checking on the guards in a freezing rain at midnight is worth a year of payday speeches."
As a leader, your personal care and appreciation can have a tremendous impact. According to Chapman, “The worse the weather, the later the hour, the darker the night, the more important it is to get out to see and be seen.”
Be forewarned, if you’re going to expect heroic efforts on the part of your officers and staff, you better be prepared to lead by personal example. This, too, from Muddy Boots Leadership: "It was late Friday night. The platoon had been breaking down tank track and replacing track shoes for hours. The soldiers were beyond exhaustion. They were beyond intimidation. They quit working and sat down, waiting for the inevitable ass-chewing.
"The platoon sergeant had worked just as hard and long as they had. He was every bit as tired, and many years older. He approached the sullen group and said... nothing. He walked past them as if they were invisible. He slowly bent down, picked up the tools and began to break down track alone. For several minutes the soldiers watched him sweat and grunt. Slowly, one by one, they each stood up and resumed work. Not a word was said, not then, not ever."
Difficult times calls for leaders who can inspire people to achieve what they themselves didn’t believe they were capable of.
As Chapman notes, “Effective leadership is motivating people to give 10% more effort than they believe they have, to achieve goals they think they can’t.”
Of course when your people give that extra effort and achieve what they didn’t know they were capable of, be sure you personally recognize and appreciate their accomplishments. Celebrate them as a winning team. Watch their confidence to face new challenges grow.