Pop Quiz: What’s the most formidable obstacle a supervisor will need to overcome in order to a truly lead people effectively?
Answer: Their own personality!
Does the answer seem too obvious? Is it something everyone in a management position readily realizes? Or agrees with? Unfortunately, the answer to those questions in many cases is an unequivocal no!
I characterize this as unfortunate because denial of personal responsibility is the surest way to continue down a failing path. We can’t afford failure by our law enforcement leaders. Supervisors can go to classes, learn particular management techniques, earn lofty degrees and meditate in the Himalayas with Tibetan monks, but if they don’t recognize that their greatest enemy is themselves, than no training is going to help them lead others.
Listen, no one’s perfect—and I don’t claim to have been, or to be, close to the perfect supervisor. But, I tried constantly to do my best and continually focused on the art of leading, at least up until my last year or so on the job. At that point, admittedly, I went on auto-pilot. I was distracted with writing, teaching and working for my own company. However, my shift was still happy and successful, productive and engaged, but I give most of the credit to them and my sergeants.
With that said, I’m a student of effective leaders and leadership skills. I read biographies, history and, most importantly, books that cite research. In addition, I travel the country teaching seminars so I’m constantly engaged with officers and employees on every level in a myriad of organizations. I sit and talk with chiefs, sheriffs and CEOs. I listen to mid-level managers and line-level working stiffs.
Because of these conversations, at the very beginning of my Finding the Leader in You seminars, I highlight a slide with the following observation: “Law enforcement leadership—or rather the lack of true leadership in law enforcement—may be the most serious issue facing our profession today.”
The reason: The overwhelming sentiment of a large portion of officers I encounter is frustration with their immediate command. And I hear this from virtually every level.
A Lesson on Ego
I was teaching a class for Northwestern University’s Staff and Command School in Philadelphia several years ago. Many in attendance were supervisors from the city, surrounding towns and the Pennsylvania State Police. At some point, a freewheeling discussion ensued among the group of approximately 50 after I asked, “How many of you are lousy, hated and ineffective supervisors?”
There was a collective laugh after the question and obviously no one admitted that they matched the description in the query I had just posed.
So I continued.
“OK. You all know each other fairly well. Many of you work in the same agency. So let me ask this: Are there any lousy ineffective supervisors in this room?” Laughter erupted again, but this time it was a little less robust. So I said, “OK, point them out.” Not surprisingly, there were no takers. No one wanted to ‘out’ the poor supervisors.
Still the discussions continued and it was acknowledged that there are more educational opportunities for bosses than ever before. Available books on leadership are abundant, internet sources are readily available and organizations regularly spend money on training their supervisors.
So I floated another question: “OK, if supervisors are smarter than 20 years ago, better trained and more educated, how come we still have the same—or worse—problems between line and management?”
A Philly Captain, Tom H., who I was forced to have a couple of beers with the night before in an Irish bar immediately shouted the following observation, “Jimmy, I know the answer! It’s simple. You can’t educate the EGO out of assholes.”
The group erupted in wild agreement, raucous laughter and approving applause. So I followed with: “But Tom, apparently people like that are in this room. So why don’t they do something about it?”
He replied, “Because their egos won’t let them contemplate the fact that they do indeed suck!”
The truth: If your ego has the power than you’re stuck. We can’t even begin to discuss what leaders should be focused on and what they need to know about people and organizations in order to effectively lead if their dysfunctional egos are in charge.
The Principles of Effective Leadership
3. Communal Spirit
Simply put: Organizations exist only to accomplish a mission. Missions can’t be accomplished without people. People thrive in a positive and energized communal spirit. If anything overrides those three principles, then you have a problem because all three have to work hand-in-hand. One can’t exist without the others; eliminate one and you’ll fail. The problem: Ego often overrides all three. For many managers, their ego takes precedent over the organizational purpose and certainly the people hired to accomplish the mission.
Sounds both simple and sound, doesn’t it? Can you even argue with the premise? Of course you can’t. So then why is it that these straightforward principles are ignored and lost in the day-to-day process of leadership in a LE organization?
The answer: Ego. Personal idiosyncrasies, obsessive compulsive disorders, micromanaging, lack of trust and personal pursuits too often—all supersede the organizational mission, the people and the communal spirit.
I’ve heard every conceivable example of these violations and regularly address them in classes. In many cases these blatant examples still tend to be justified by egomaniacal supervisors who are struggling to lead and incapable of seeing the reality of their actions.
In my next article, I’ll go over some of those examples and excuses made by clueless supervisors.