A young sergeant walked into the lieutenant’s office. “Now what do I do, Lieutenant?” he asked.
“What are you talking about, Sergeant?”
“You ordered me to go to each of my squad members and ask them where they wanted to be in our police department in five years. The first guy I talked to told me he wanted to be a homicide investigator. Now what do I do? I don’t know what he needs to do to get there from here.”
“Find out what he needs to do,” the lieutenant responded. “I suspect he needs to read some textbooks. He may need to enroll in a college course. He probably needs to get some experience in a more basic investigative role. Sergeant, you need to do your homework. That’s part of the job—serving your followers.”
Our research at the Pointman Leadership Institute has revealed the lieutenant was right. One of the big responsibilities of leaders is to take a genuine interest in the lives of their followers. Demonstrate your interest by discovering their ambitions. Ask a lot of questions. Probe their dreams and goals. Then determine how you can help them achieve them.
Whether you are a supervisor, master patrol officer or field training officer, you must understand this leadership responsibility. Maxim: People are more likely to follow someone they sense is sincerely interested in helping them fulfill their goals and reach their full potential.
Support Their Ambitions
I tried an experiment when I was a deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department. I asked all of the supervisors in one of the divisions I commanded to approach each of their squad members individually and ask them two questions: 1) “Where do you want to be in five years in this organization?” and 2) “How can I help you get there?”
I met some resistance to this project. Some leaders argued the involved officers were adults, not children, and would look upon this approach as childish and insulting. I insisted we proceed. Later, the captain who resisted more than the others reported a surprising reaction. He said several senior patrol officers were stunned. One of them stated, “I’ve been working here for nearly 15 years, and this is the first time one of my bosses showed any interest in me, personally.”
The productivity and effectiveness of the division involved in that experiment increased sharply in comparison with the other divisions. That division’s feeling that their leadership demonstrated an interest in their ambitions apparently was instrumental in inspiring or motivating them to more voluntary commitment and diligence.
Show Genuine Interest
The first step in making this type of leadership a reality is to recognize that your followers are just like you. Like you, they have fears, interests and dreams. Begin showing an interest in them individually. Not as a device to get more work out of them, but because you really are interested.
Engage them in conversation about their families, hobbies and interests. Make a conscious effort to remember some of these facts. Follow up your newfound knowledge about them. How was the ski trip? How’s that golfing handicap? Did your son make the Little League team?
This kind of personal exchange will not only improve their willingness to follow you, it will make your job more interesting and rewarding. It may sound corny, but it’s very fulfilling to realize you’ve helped another person achieve a goal, develop a skill, make a profound contribution to the profession or just become happy with their job.
When most of us think of training, we think of following a lesson plan, practicing a skill or listening to a lecture. One of the big challenges of training is to help a follower reach their full potential. To do that, we must find out all we can about that potential. Another maxim: People are more likely to develop a skill or proficiency in something that interests them. In other words, the first step of supporting the continuing training or development of established employees is to learn about their interests and skills.
Inspire those you wish to influence. Discover their ambitions and dreams. Then help them achieve them—on point.