Last week I wrote about the issue of Organizational Stress, and my belief that it is not the biggest stressor in the profession. Some readers agreed with that, some did not and I am ok with that. Let me be very clear. I believe Organizational Stress is a stressor for officers and a morale killer, I do not however believe it is the biggest stressor and what is really killing the men and women of law enforcement.
I promised that this week I would share some ideas on how we can address the Organizational Stress piece. I believe the biggest contributing factor in organizational stress is a lack of strong leadership. As a result I am going to suggest the best way to address this issue is by making leadership and leading part of the culture of our organizations.
Keep in mind the suggestions to addressing this problem are Simple (lacking complexity), but they are not Easy (lacking effort). We are, after all, talking about changing the culture in many organizations. Changing a culture is not easy. Culture change takes time. This is a long-term project. We did not get here overnight, and we will not fix it overnight.
One of the contributing factors in many organizations is that leadership is a course and not a culture. What I mean by that is that there are internal or external leadership courses you need to take in order to check the box and get promoted. The problem is that no one ever asks you what you learned in those courses, how you are applying what you learned and what you are doing to share what you learned. You often do get asked if you got a certificate of completion, an indication that what is valued is certificates, diplomas and degrees, and not learning. If we valued learning we would seek to get a return on the investment from having people attend training by putting systems in place and asking questions to ensure people are actually learning and ensuring they take the responsibility to apply and share what they are learning.
In many organizations leadership is still confused with rank, position and title. Rank, position and title do not make you a leader; they simply put you in a formal leadership position. There still exists the mentality of, “Here are your stripes, your bars or your stars so now you are a leader.” As a result people are being put in formal leadership positions without the skills to lead.
Why do I keep saying “formal leadership position”? Because leadership is not about rank, position and title. Everyone in the organization is in a position to lead. The question is, “Do you choose to step up and lead?” Some of the most influential leaders in most organizations have no formal rank, position or title. Some of them are leading people on a path of excellence and others are cancers in organizations and leading people down a dark and destructive road. The key is for people to focus on their span of control. It starts with leading myself and then seeking to positively influence those people within my span of control.
So what can we do to create a culture of leadership and leading? Here are a few ideas:
- Teach basic leadership principles leadership throughout pre-service academy training.
- Have leadership training be part of both initial and ongoing training for FTOs / PTOs.
- Ensure FTO’s / PTOs are demonstrating, discussing and reinforcing leadership principles as part of the training and coaching they do with new officers.
- Weave leadership principles into all in-service training.
- Create bit size leadership training that can be delivered in 10 minutes or less to everyone in the department on a weekly, or at least monthly, basis.
- For people seeking promotion to formal leadership positions have leadership development programs they must complete prior to getting promoted and then ongoing leadership training once they get promoted. Too often post promotion training focuses on administrative tasks and not on leadership.
- Trainers are in some of the most influential leadership positions in any organization. Require that people seeking training positions go through the same leadership training required for people applying for frontline supervisory promotion.
- Create a system where people going through any leadership training program are having regular, ongoing discussions with their supervisor on what they are learning, how they are applying what they are learning and what they are doing to discuss or share what they are learning with their peers.
- Create a leadership library where people can access a wide range of leadership books to further their knowledge. Encourage people in the organization to recommend or even donate copies of their favorite leadership books. You can even start a Leadership Book Club.
- Have respected leaders within your organization record short videos talking about their favorite leadership book and their top takeaways from that book. Store these videos somewhere where everyone in the organization has access to view them.
- Have formal mentoring programs for newly promoted supervisors at every level. We have FTOs for recruits coming out of the Academy, why do we not have FTOs for newly promoted supervisors?
- Start a “What the hell were you thinking?” video series where at least once a month someone from the senior leadership groups shares the thought process and factors they considered prior to making a recent decision, which impacted their area of the department or the department as a whole.
- During leadership training talk about how tools like mindfulness, sleep management, resilience, and breathing can be applied to leadership.
- Reinforce throughout all the leadership training the importance of becoming both students of leadership and practitioners who practice leading.
- Caution people during training of the “Myth of the Perfect Leader”. Leaders are human and as a result will screw up and at times make poor decisions. If you have a culture of leadership and leading then when they screw up, they will stand up and own up to their screw up, learn from it and move forward as a better leader.
What did I miss on my list of recommendations? What would you add to the list? What are you already doing to build and sustain a culture of leadership and leading in your agency?
Be cautious in believing that you will ever completely eliminate the culture of complaining in any organization. You are dealing with people. People like to bitch and complain. The grass always seems greener somewhere else. Great culture will minimize legitimate complaints, I am not sure it will ever eliminate complaining.
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