Law Officer Facebook fans submitted a bunch of topics for me to run my mouth about. Just as Ol’ Bullethead suggested years ago, there are a lot of hard working cops upset about the same stuff. I think I’ve said something before about “changing the patch and the city, but the conversations will stay the same.” Damn! Sometimes I even impress myself.
This month’s questions deal with a lack of leadership among police brass and comment on politics within agencies, which is a large part of the leadership question. So here’s one response to the same basic issue.
Moving Up: the Good, the Bad
Issues arising from a perceived lack of leadership usually center on ignoring strategies toward crime control. See, as cops move up in their careers, their perspective broadens and their values change. When a cop becomes a lieutenant, they hang up their guns for a computer and a keyboard. This is good and bad.
The good: No sergeant wants a lieutenant looking over their shoulder during every critical incident or tactical operation. Most lieutenants have been removed from actual police work for too long to think of all the possible issues around executing a tactical operation. This allows them to see the operation from a broad perspective and think of the things the sergeant and the troops aren’t worrying about, such as the effect the operation will have on the community, safety concerns beyond the incident and how the planned tactics will look when held up against department policy. (The troops and the sergeant generally see operations in terms of getting the bad guy.) This doesn’t mean the brass aren’t leaders—they just have other stuff on their plates to consider.
The bad: Once a street cop hangs up their guns, it becomes a race to the top. You can’t blame them. When they become office workers, they might as well get their pay, benefits and retirements as high as possible for when they ride into the sunset. The problems start here because many of them believe they can advance beyond lieutenant by not making waves as they do the work of a project manager in the civilian world.
For a large part, they’re correct about this. The people above them obtained their positions doing exactly that, and in creeps intra-agency politics …
Managers are expected to support the managers above them in carrying out the mission set forth by the command staff. They need to bring forward one message to the troops.
However, notice that I didn’t say squat about being a “yes” man. Managers should all bring a critical eye into those high-level meetings and raise real objections to what the command is proposing. But many of them don’t because they’re trying not to lose the political support they need to get to that second bar. In any agency worth working for, it would be the people raising the questions who get the nod to the next level, as long as they carry out the final mission with one voice once the decisions are made.
The other problem is that what we knuckle-dragging, execute-the-mission types see as leadership is different from what the rest of the world sees. What the rest of the world calls leadership, we often call management.
When LEOs look outside for help in creating better leaders, what we usually find are professors and gurus who’ve studied business leaders. If these people acted with ethics, considered the viewpoints of those under them and made their companies successful, they’re considered great leaders. There weren’t gun fire, heroics or inspirational quotes in what I just said, but that doesn’t mean these people aren’t leaders. Getting cops to carry and use audio and video recorders, work within the law, consider the community, etc.—that’s leadership. It just looks like management from the perspective of someone who likes to kick down doors and chase scumbags.
The question of managers pushing their own agendas is simple: Whose should they push? They were picked because their agenda was in line with that of the municipality. Cops play within the rules, even when it’s inconvenient.
Bottom line: Leadership isn’t just what you watched in the movie We Were Soldiers. The other part, management, is just as important, but so much more boring.