Tony Wratchford, from the Law Officer Facebook page, asked a question about why LE supervisors aren’t required to attend leadership training. Although many departments and state Peace Officer Standards and Training bureaus do require such training for sergeants and above, sometimes it just doesn’t get the point across. Essentially, supervisors are forgetting what it means to demonstrate great leadership skills.
When Ol’ Bullethead was running around in the special operations community, I could count the number of people who I wouldn’t follow to the gates of hell on one hand. We had some ticket punchers and some idiots, but they were few and far between. Unfortunately, in my LE career, the opposite is true. I’ve downed many cups of Joe and a few too many beers discussing this with friends from other parts of the military who are in LE now and feel the same way. I don’t get it. I truly don’t understand how a group that considers itself “para-military” could let themselves become so far behind when it comes to leadership.
I was recently involved in a large tactical operation that was planned by a lieutenant who’s been removed from actual police work for many years. The plan was a disaster. Luckily though, the operation went OK because we were largely unchallenged. The challenges we did have were met by excellent troops and great line-level supervision. But I wasn’t the only one who saw the poor planning. Everyone involved knew it was a mess. To make matters worse, the chief sent out an email thanking the department for all of our participation and giving special recognition to the leadership team for the successful operation.
Now, if a patrol cop did as lousy a job executing a radio call as this lieutenant did with this operation, we’d hold them accountable in one way or another. They’d receive additional training or mentoring. Or at the very least, we’d explain the correct way to handle the situation. Conversely, when a lieutenant screws up a plan, and that plan gets approved by a captain and a deputy chief, we give them special recognition and special thanks. Unfortunately, this sort of backslapping among higher-ups for a poor job is common in the cop world. So common, in fact, that unless things go uncommonly wrong and people get hurt, no one pays attention.
Identifying the Issues
Even though I’ve analyzed this issue from more angles than you’ll find trying to clear your way down a circular staircase, I still haven’t figured it out. I’m sure there are a whole slew of factors that get compounded. However, I identified two main areas that cause leadership issues. The first is that some sergeants are afraid to execute the demands of their position because they were recently the peers of those who are now in their charge. After a short time, they realize that unless compelled, they can maintain the status quo and still have their former peers as friends. The second group is those sergeants who instantly turn into Napoleon after promotion.
What both of these groups have forgotten is that troop welfare should be the top priority. The first group has forgotten that the troops aren’t their friends. They’re happier when the troop/supervisor relationship is clearly defined. The reality: Cops not only want to put bad guys in jail, they also want to be challenged. They want guidance and direction from their leaders and they want accountability up and down the chain. They don’t want special recognition for bad plans or plans that only work because there’s no resistance. As for the other group, they’re just a pain in the ass.
Shortly after these sergeants engrain themselves in either of these groups, many of them realize that they can maintain the status quo and push through the ranks without making the agency better and often without ever making a decision. Because of this, many of our leaders are lost. They’ve moved away from being the men and women of service we all signed up to be and became interested in career advancement and self-preservation. The training schools they attended didn’t put them into stressful life-or-death situations where leaders emerge to bring missions to successful conclusions.
If we want to fix things, we must start with ourselves. If each of us decides to become a leader to those around us, those below us and even to those above us, we must correct our leadership failures. We must hold ourselves accountable by performing our duties to our full potential, while also maintaining the expectations of the public we serve. We must continue to work within the boundaries of our rank, while still letting those above us know what’s expected of them and developing those below us to take our place.
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