In the 1970s, we were losing nearly 500 Americans a week in traffic collisions involving the use of alcohol. The number of DUI-related traffic deaths in 2009 dropped to around 250 per week. Throughout the years something happened to significantly reduce those fatalities.
Some of the success in reducing these deaths was engineering. Today’s motor vehicles--with air bags, seat belts and other protective factors--are safer. Another part of the solution has been education. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and other public awareness efforts have had an impact. I strongly believe that the increased efforts and improved skills of law enforcement has also played a major part in this success story.
For several years, I participated in a Peace Officers Standards & Training (POST) program designed to reduce traffic problems. Police officers attended a one-week seminar structured to build their traffic supervisory skills. A significant portion of that program was devoted to the DUI problem. I noticed synergism and initiative at work in those POST seminars.
When people get together to confront a common problem, they can have a positive impact on one another. As a group, they can stimulate ideas and actions that wouldn’t emerge from individual thought. Synergism is defined as cooperative action of discrete agencies such that the total effect is greater than the sum of the two effects taken independently. That’s what I saw happening in those POST seminars.
Example: One part of the seminar focused on the methods officers used to help detect the DUI driver. Officers were encouraged to describe in group discussion the techniques they used to detect DUI drivers. At the beginning of the discussion, the classic symptoms would be described, such as weaving back and forth within a lane, failing to go on a green light and following too closely. But invariably, as the discussion continued some unusual and unorthodox methods for detection would emerge. I remember one officer describing how he “listened” for DUI drivers. He stated that he’d often work on his reports or log as he sat in his patrol car under an overpass of a crossing highway. He explained that when he heard a car riding the lane divider reflector bumps overhead, a closer examination would often reveal additional driving abnormalities indicating impaired driving.
In their written critiques of those classes, most of the participants registered high value on the exchanging of ideas, procedures and strategies that occurred as they confronted a common problem. Leaders recognize the value of synergism and use it in solving problems, devising new methods and improving effectiveness.
The encouragement of the use of initiative is also a powerful tool in problem solving and pursuing excellence. Strong leaders look for opportunities to lead. They don’t wait for those opportunities to come to them. They seek them out. They also encourage their followers to exercise initiative rather than depending solely upon detailed instructions from above.
During the concerted drive to reduce the DUI problem, many of us worked diligently on improving the efficiency of our enforcement programs. Example: We streamlined our reporting and processing of detainees after arrest. This process eventually evolved into the use of a mobile unit that we called the Batmobile (blood alcohol testing--mobile). This unit made it possible for special DUI enforcement motorcycle units to have their arrestees processed in the area they were working rather than have them transported to a police station. The fingerprinting, breath testing and entire booking process all took place in this mobile unit. Then a majority of arrestees were released to a responsible person for transportation home.
The Batmobile reduced processing time significantly and more than doubled the productivity of the enforcement units. It wasn’t unusual for some of these units to make six to eight DUI arrests during one eight-hour watch. Interestingly, the time-cutting methods that resulted in this innovative system were the product of several enforcement officers (not bosses) exercising their initiative and vigorously advocating the implementation of their ideas. Also involved were risk-taking leaders who didn’t shrug off unusual ideas.
Following are some practical steps to encourage synergism and innovation:
The concepts of synergism and innovation are effective in solving problems and pursuing excellence. Powerful leaders look for the right time and place to use them to good advantage. --On Point.