FOCUS ON LEADERSHIP…CHIEF:ARE YOU ENCOURAGING CANDOR, QUALITY INPUT, AND HONEST FEEDBACK?
November 21, 2016
A wise and effective chief is one who makes it clear throughout the organization, in both words and actions, that constructive input is not only tolerated, but more importantly is welcomed and appreciated
The wise leader is one who recognizes that he or she does not have all the answers, who recognizes the wisdom of others, and who creates and maintains an enviorment that not only tolerates, but also actively encourages and appreciates true candor, quality input, and honest feedback.
THE QUASI-MILITARY ORGANIZATION
The typical law enforcement agency fits the description of a quasi-‐military organization. We wear uniforms, have military titles, and function in regimented ways. One of the occasional misunderstandings of the military, however, is that obedience is blind and that guidance goes unquestioned; that is just not the case. While there comes a time, especially in combat, where orders are followed without question, military leadership doctrine places a high premium on people having the courage and loyalty to diplomatically question troublesome or controversial guidance. Military personnel carry out the orders they receive, but all services recognize the need for leaders to available themselves of the candid perspective of subordinates, and recognize the positive attributes of leaders who have the wisdom to solicit input and subordinates who have the courage to provide it.
VIETNAM AND TOP MILITARY LEADERSHIP
There is no better topic of discussion for military leadership failure in the area of candor than the harsh criticism of top military leaders during the Vietnam War. In just about every critique of the role of the military in that war, two things are strongly emphasized; there were many actions and strategies that just about everyone at lower levels recognized as largely ineffective, and a systemic failure of command-‐ level leadership, up to and including generals and admirals, to candidly and persuasively educate their superiors with respect to doubts and concerns concerning combat operations.
The strong personalities and bold assertions of the Secretary of Defense had a stifling and trickle-‐down effect on military leadership in far too many situations, resulting in personnel at lower levels clearly recognizing horrific problem with strategies, and folks at the upper levels lacking the courage, fearing “career suicide,” to provide candid and perceived unwanted feed back to their higher headquarters. Without intending to be dramatic, these leadership failures contributed to failed operations, unnecessary combat deaths, and a war that went on far too long.
TALK IS CHEAP – YOU HAVE TO REALLY MEAN IT!
Just about all police chiefs, at least occasionally, will solicit and consider input from subordinates, but there are far too many chiefs who fail in this regard. While most resistant chiefs will have one or more persons they do discuss issues with, these other persons are often not in positions to develop truly valuable perspectives or worse, will tell the chief what they think that he or she wants to hear.
A wise and effective chief is one who makes it clear throughout the organization, in both words and actions, that constructive input is not only tolerated, but more importantly is welcomed and appreciated. This is one of those situations where actions speak louder than words, and all the assertions of openness and inclusiveness will be disregarded if the chief fails to conspicuously embrace input from subordinates.
“GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS” IS NOT ENOUGH
Even worse than not soliciting input is seeking it but ignoring it. The former chief of a major department had a well-‐deserved reputation for going through the motions of soliciting input, but largely ignoring just about all of that he received; the standing joke was that there wasn’t so much as a comma between “what do you think” and “this is what we are going to do!” Understandably, it didn’t take long for personnel to recognize that the chief was somewhat of a “one man show” who kept his own counsel, and that providing the solicited input was pretty much a wasted effort.
SAYING IT AND MEANING IT
The chief’s sincerity in soliciting input, which includes constructive criticism as well, should be institionalized through the entire organization. The chief should distribute to the entire department a document that encourages diplomatic and well thought out input from all levels of the organization, and should also make clear that interference or worse, intimidation, from any level in the chain of command that might disagree with that input, will not be tolerated. Diplomatic and well thought out input and constructive criticism should continually be described as healthy and a reflection of organizational loyalty and responsibility. Contrary perspectives within the chain of command must not be permitted to cause ideas and recommendations to be modified, but rather should be addressed, if the input is in writing, in a separate document that accompanies the employee’s thoughts in a process known as a “military endorsement;” an attached report which reflects the differing perspective
BEING AN “ACTIVE LISTENER” IS ESSENTIAL
Most of us can easily tell by a person’s manner and expressions as to whether what we are saying is truly being heard and considered by the listener. The average employee is equally perceptive and clearly recognize whether or not the chief is truly listening to and considering what is being said. In face-‐to-‐face meeting, the chief has to recognize this reality, and behave in a way that makes it clear that what is being said is being considered and taken seriously.
FEEDBACK TO THE EMPLOYEE
Whether verbal or in writing, the chief must not be seen as a “black hole” for suggestions and input. In every instance of input, the chief must insure that the involved employee is thanked for the input, and given feedback.
In many instances, the feedback might be a discussion on why the issue(s) is being addressed differently from the input, but it should be provided in a manner that makes it clear that the suggestion was appreciated, considered, and not summarily disregarded.
In addition to constructive and potentially valuable input, the chief must also recognize that some input may be somewhat bizarre and will come from employees who sometimes see themselves as somewhat of a “shock jock” or who just want to “rock the boat.” This is one of those situations where the chief just has to take the “good with the bad,” consider the information, and diplomatically respond accordingly.
This reality is part of the price that the chief has to pay for inclusiveness.
“BAD NEWS WELCOMED HERE”
Robert Vernon is a retired assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, and someone who “walked the walk” and “practiced what he preached” with respect to soliciting the unvarnished input from subordinates, however painful it might have been. His very valid perspective was that the only things worse than the problems he was aware of were the problems that he was not aware of. Accordingly, in addition to widely disseminating his desire for candid input, he actually had a sign on his desk that read, Bad News Welcomed Here. His troops came to recognize his sincerity and although there were probably times when the things that people brought to his attention caused him to question the wisdom of his openness, his decisions were better decisions, and the organization was a better organization, because of his extraordinary leadership in this critical area.
BLIND OBEDIENCE IS NOT LOYALTY!
There is a type of courage that for some is far more difficult to exercise than the physical variety; having the guts and inclination, hopefully diplomatic, to look your boss right in the eye and candidly discuss your concerns! Most of us have had a “unique” boss in the past where we would rather have confronted multiple armed suspects, armed with nothing more than a snub-‐ nosed five shot revolver, than have been constructively critical of something that boss had done or said; Mustering that type of courage is among the factors that separate a manager from a leader. The subordinate manager or supervisor who lacks the ability to exercise this trait is not a leader, and someone whose failure to act accordingly is letting down the organization and its personnel.
Chief, the ball is in your court. Work hard to create true two-‐way communications within your department, and do what is necessary to ensure that your troops know that your really mean it!
FBI-LEEDA Newsletter, August 2013