There are, in my opinion, six basic essentials of leadership: 1) provide clear direction, 2) develop a team spirit, 3) ensure continuing development/improvement of staff, 4) cultivate shared principles and values, 5) promote open communication, and 6) establish controls to ensure execution. In this article, I will address the topic of cultivating principles and values, perhaps the most important aspect of them all.
Why is the ability to cultivate principles and values so important? Because it’s what separates great organizations from good ones. It’s difficult to explain how this is done, but it’s worth the effort it takes to comprehend. The ability to cultivate principles and values is precisely what makes some leaders so powerful in their ability to influence and persuade others.
This article isn’t intended to describe a formula or lock-step process. Rather, it’s meant to explain the intangible, sometimes illusive reason that causes some organizations to rise to greatness. Many great leaders don’t consciously think about this format or these terms. They just do what comes naturally. They have an intuitive gift for effective leadership. For the rest of us, this can be a very important insight.
Recognition & Reward
When I was a two-star chief over one quarter of the city of Los Angeles, I conducted a strategic planning process with all division commanders (five area stations and one traffic division). We decided to focus our attention on five outcomes: 1) reduce the repressible crime rate, 2) reduce the rate of injury traffic collisions, 3) reduce the response time for 911 emergency calls for service, 4) increase the detective clearance rate (crimes solved), and 5) reduce the rate of outside-initiated personnel complaints.
At an implementation planning meeting with the commanders, I announced what I thought would be a great program. I would purchase a trophy. We’d award the trophy each quarter to the station that was the most successful in achieving our five goals. It would be a perpetual trophy that would be displayed in the lobby of the police station that earned it that quarter. The trophy would be engraved with the name of the area station and the dates (quarter) of this achievement. This recognition strategy, based on the important leadership principle of recognition, would inject some friendly competition into the mix and focus everyone’s attention on the goals. In my mind, it was a done deal.
I was very disappointed when several of the station commanders opposed my “brilliant” plan. They explained that few officers ever went into the lobby of their station. Those coming into the lobby were victims, bail bondsmen or complainants, all of whom wouldn’t be interested in the trophy.
However, the commanders understood the principle of recognition, and they graciously offered an alternative. Design and purchase a flag, they said. The flag would be a field of midnight blue with a silver “No. 1” (LAPD colors) thereon. We’d fly this flag over the station that won the honor for the quarter, under the U.S. and California flags. I was convinced, and accepted their proposal. Bottom line: It was a great success and a matter of pride and honor, and officers enjoyed explaining the flag to the many who asked about it.
This experience taught me an important lesson. When a leadership team has shared principles and values, their combined wisdom will exceed the sum of their individual abilities and insights.
Effective leaders recognize the importance of establishing a foundation that supports their leadership. They understand that the structure, staffing, policies, procedures and even the operational tactics they set up or endorse should be based upon logic and reason. Logic and reason are the foundation of the Below 100 initiative (www.Below100.com
). For example, the first of the mandates “Wear your belt” is based upon hard data: Traffic collisions were the leading cause of officer fatalities in 2010. For the last three decades, 42% of officers killed in traffic collisions weren’t wearing a seatbelt. There’s no arguing with the factual importance then of wearing your seatbelt. So how do you take a concept like Below 100 and bring it to your organization so that they embrace it?
I believe that building a strong foundation for your leadership begins with identifying a few basic principles. Upon these principles policies are developed. Strategies are then formed to move the policies toward implementation. Finally, tactics or procedures are created and practiced to put the strategies into action. Some practitioners refer to this system as “Principle-Based Leadership.” (See chart attached below.)
Because principles are broad statements of truth, they never change. Principles explain reality and give logic to leadership. Most organizations are founded on several principles. Much of the American police ideology and practices find their origins in nine principles identified with Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850) and the London Metropolitan Police. One of those principles states: “…the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.”
This is a broad statement of truth that’s still relevant today. When a police department secures the respect and approval of the public they serve, they’re empowered with support and cooperation. Another principle of Peel states: “The true effectiveness of a police agency is the prevention and reduction of criminal behavior rather than the measurement of police activities such as arrests and/or investigations.”
Principles, such as those illustrated here, form a foundation upon which all of the other components of your leadership can be based. Principles answer the “why” questions. In the case of Below 100, the principle is to reduce unnecessary police deaths. “Why are we doing this?” “Why should we use this strategy?” “Why do we have this policy?”
“Why are we measuring these events or rates?” The answer: To save lives and improve officer safety.
Policies are intended to give guidance. They help focus attention on preferred actions from several alternatives. They’re usually statements of intent to apply a principle. Policies differ from rules or procedures in that they’re broader in scope. They give some latitude in how goals and objectives are accomplished. They point the members of the organization in the right direction. They offer support and approval that still allows followers to exercise their initiative.
The so-called Peelian principle about public approval described above begs a policy that encourages a partnership and communication with the community served. Such a policy could read: “It’s our policy to pursue the philosophy of community-oriented policing. Officers should take appropriate action to establish open lines of communication with all segments of our community and work with them in developing strategies to achieve our mission.”
Note: This statement gives direction, but, at the same time, encourages creativity and some flexibility. It moves the principle of community approval toward a reality without limiting the options that can be developed. Other policy statements that would support the principle of public approval could address press relations, personnel complaints, organizational transparency and other similar issues.
Field operations should also be guided by statements of policy, based upon principles. Example: A vehicle pursuit policy that minimizes risk to officers and community members will also support the principle of securing public confidence. Sample: “When the risk to the officer and/or the community exceeds the benefits of apprehending the violator (considering road conditions, speed, presence of pedestrians, possibility of future apprehension, nature of the violation) the vehicle pursuit should be terminated.” This policy statement gives guidance, but also allows discretion.
Strategies are the means to offer maximum support for adopted policies. Strategies are well thought out plans or methods to pursue goals and objectives articulated by policy. The policy of adopting the philosophy of community-oriented policing can lead to developing the strategies of problem-oriented policing vs. reactive policing, career criminal focus programs (TRAP) and collaborative community meetings.
The formation of strategies should involve those actually doing the job. Field supervisors and beat officers can often come up with much more effective strategies and tactics than top management. Usually, several strategies should be developed to support a single policy. Unlike principles, strategies can and should be changed according to current conditions and changing challenges. Policies can also be revised or changed but more rarely than strategies.
Example: A press relations policy statement from the LAPD Manual, Vol. 1 (Policy) 115.75: “Officers should make every reasonable effort to serve the needs of the media in informing the public about crime and other police issues” could be supported by the appointment of a press relations officer; an ongoing system of scheduling of press conferences on matters of high interest; allowing members of the media to accompany officers on significant operations where the investigation won’t be compromised or the rights of individuals abridged; and allowing the media access to personnel, at the lowest level, who are fully informed about the subject of a press inquiry.
A tactic is a method of implementing the plan. They’re more specific steps taken toward accomplishing a goal. Tactics are actions or procedures that get the job done. They’re often mandates and even rules.
There are usually several tactics within a given strategy. For example, pursuing the strategy of problem-oriented policing could involve several tactics, including hardening the target; scanning, analysis, response and assessment (SARA) crime analysis; property identification; educating probable victims (“Lady Beware” rape prevention video); and graffiti removal. Each of these steps, taken together, constitutes the strategy in support of the principle.
Broad participation in the process of developing principle-based leadership is important at all levels. The higher up the inverted pyramid on the chart, the more beat officers, detectives and other street officers should be involved. When top leadership does a good job of identifying and communicating the foundational principles, exceptional contributions to the rest of the process will occur. Bringing everyone in on the thinking and logic of top leadership demonstrates respect and confidence in them. Combine that with a sincere invitation for all to help with the development of superb strategies and tactics and you have a winning combination.
It’s impossible to have a procedure or tactic that will cover every contingency faced by officers. But when they have a foundation of logical principles and policies (Below 100) to guide them, they can create the tactic to fit the situation and constantly improve current procedures.
The presence of deeply shared values results in willing and diligent work toward the organizations goals rather than the need for forced compliance. Values are those issues that members deem important, significant or having worth. Values are determined in various ways. Measuring behavior or accomplishments communicates values. The very fact that top leadership is measuring something tells operating personnel it’s important. Giving positive reinforcement to certain behavior communicates values. Taking disciplinary action against prohibited acts communicates values. Punishing those who fail to accept assigned responsibilities communicates values. This is critical to making Below 100 work. Those in leadership positions, and that’s just about everyone who reads this magazine, must understand that it’s important to “catch” people doing things right and have the courageous conversation or initiate discipline when they’re doing things wrong (such as failing to wear body armor or driving faster than necessary to a call.)
Finally, perhaps the most powerful way of developing shared values is the process involved in implementing principle-based leadership that I’ve attempted to describe in this article. The procedures, methods or tactics mandated by leadership can work to some degree without foundational support. But they will be accepted and even highly valued more readily within the logical matrix of principle-based leadership.
Benefits of Principle-Based Leadership
- Increased willing compliance by followers: People are more likely to follow leadership when they understand the purpose behind the direction they receive.
- More team work when members employing different strategies or tactics can see how they’re linked together by the same principles and policies. Less compartmentalized thinking.
- Support from personnel in specialized units when they can see how their activities are connected to other entities of the department.
- Increased creativity when members are encouraged to help form strategy and tactics based upon adopted principles and policies.
- Shared values. The clarification of the values of the organization is a powerful by-product of the process of developing this model of leadership. The very identification and wording of the foundational principles is a strong statement of what the members of the organization are to value and pursue.
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