Leadership Tips and Strategies for Adapting to Uncertain Times

#adaptingtochange #cops #tipsforleaders #uncertainty Apr 27, 2022

 Well, if it’s blog day, it’s usually Wednesday and that means we are halfway through the work week. How has yours been?

Mine has been spent with some awesome, dedicated law enforcement professionals on the Cape of Massachusetts committed to learning a new way to police in the modern era… through my Servant Officer class. One thing is certain, their commitment to quality law enforcement is only surpassed by their commitment to serve their communities. That’s what it is really all about.

In this week’s podcast (released Monday) here, I discuss what I see as a recurring challenge for our law enforcement leadership – Adapting to Uncertain Times. I get it, it’s difficult. Whether it’s uncertainty in our professional or personal lives, the lack of clarity or consistency of expectation can lead to all sorts of chaos. The goal of any leader is to offer some stability and clarity in spite of the uncertainty that surrounds your people. 

In the podcast, I reference the Center for Creative Leadership’s Study, which talks about the three things that led followers to become distrustful or disengaged from their leader:

1)    How they handle change or uncertainty and their ability to provide direction.

2)    Their willingness (or lack of) to work in teams.

3)    Their interpersonal skills (or lack of).

What an eye opener! While people prefer a leader who possesses good interpersonal skills and is willing to build and work within a team, the NUMBER 1 issue for most workers was a leader who could provide clarity to them during uncertain times. WOW!

So, the focus of this post is to offer some tips and strategies that I’ve found helpful in doing just that:


Be sure to take a moment to reflect on how you and your organization got to this uncertain place. Acknowledge the reality of the situation - be it personal or professional. Was it internally or externally driven? What can you personally control in the current circumstance? Then begin to develop a plan of action. But first… 


Ask what their views are and how they are seeing the situation. Actively listen with the intent to understand first. Go into the meetings with a truly open mind and open heart. You don’t know what you don’t know and you have to be willing to acknowledge that.


Have you or previous leaders created the right culture within the organization? Are there impediments in place that deter open dialogue with your people? Has the culture punished the outspoken or even the creative in the past? Remember, truly significant leaders understand that they don’t know everything and that some of the best, most innovative ideas are from the rookie patrol officer. Why? Because they are seeing it with the freshest eyes! So, make sure every level of your organization creates the culture of inclusivity and diversity of ideas as well as circumstance. Only then can you find the best ideas to handle the uncertainty. 


In tandem with the above, when you have an inclusive organizational culture that listens to all levels and all ideas, you begin to foster an ownership mindset. You want your newest hire to feel that they “own” the organization just as much as the most senior official. Now this doesn’t mean they can make decisions at the same level as the chief or other command staff officer, but what it does mean is that they feel empowered and supported to take action that positively reflects upon the department! Encourage them to engage with the community and to share it on a social media post (with a reasonable level of pre-approval of course), but let them act within the moment - especially if it engages the community they serve and allows them to act with the heart of a servant. 


Look, one of the primary reasons that law enforcement is one of the more cynical professions is that we tend to have a negative mindset and outlook on the world and with good reason! David Gilmartin called this, “hypervigilance”. It’s part of the emotional survival that cops tend toward just to survive. They more often than not see the worst that society has to offer and seldom see or interact with the best of humanity. Given this reality, you as the leader must STOP expecting everything to go perfectly. Cops you lead are going to make the wrong decision, they just are. The key to success is to anticipate and acknowledge the reality of the situation and take action to address it. How do you do this?


In my Intentional Leadership class, I talk about the four pillars of leadership: Self-Awareness and Reflection, Self-Healing, Emotional Intelligence, and Mindset. Mindset is really the foundation of success. If you begin with a successful “can-do” mindset, it’s very hard to get rattled. Mindset is developed from your paradigm or the way you see the world. Since cops have some of the most negative paradigms, this is perhaps your biggest challenge to overcome and redirect. When you have a more growth or positive mindset, your thoughts will tend to the more proactive and positive. Your thoughts will in turn create more proactive actions for you and your people. So, above all, work on your mindset and really know where it is. Emotional Intelligence automatically creates a focus on the other two pillars: Self-Awareness and Reflection AND Self-Healing. In the world of leadership, the higher you go, the more self-reliant you must become on healing yourself. Gone are the days of complaining with colleagues at the water cooler, because most of them are your subordinates! The ability to exercise emotional intelligence becomes the foundation to being self-aware, having the ability to reflect on your actions and the actions of your department, AND to then develop a strategy for self-healing. 

These are some of the keys I have found successful in changing my mindset and growing myself as a leader. The lessons I’ve learned were done the hard way – through years of mistakes made and lessons learned. What I call “scar tissue”. My dedication to inspiring and instructing the current and next generation of leaders is born from my desire to save many of you from learning your lessons the hard way. 

There is no doubt that today’s law enforcement world is one of if not THE most difficult times in my lifetime. I am committed to using my experience and knowledge to help today’s leaders find positive and proactive paths forward. Learning to adapt to uncertainty in our personal AND professional lives is one of the biggest lessons you can learn and how to help your people to learn.

Have a great week!


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