Leading Servant OfficersAug 30, 2022
Earlier this year, we launched our Servant Officer class. This came about for a variety of reasons but was mostly born out of what I was seeing as I traveled across the country teaching leaders in my beloved law enforcement profession. In the more than 4 decades as a commissioned officer and instructor, I didn’t recall ever seeing morale as low as it was and truly committed officers 5 years ago, resigning in droves. It was disturbing, heart-breaking, and perplexing all at the same time. What could be done? What needed to be done? What could leaders within these organizations do to not only heal and support themselves, but those they lead?
While I’ve discussed at length in previous blog posts and podcasts what I see as the catalyst events that led to the current situation, today, I want to focus on what I see as the key components that today’s law enforcement leaders must employ to create and grow Servant Officers who is the modern law enforcement officer.
There is no question, that all first responders and, in particular, law enforcement must be tactically proficient and prepared to handle the multitude of scenarios they encounter in their daily work. However, the key components of creating and growing servant officers are for their leaders to focus on developing what I call people-centric values and people-centric skills. Leaders of today’s law enforcement organizations have much to consider. They are challenged by an ever-changing political and community environment that can be supportive one minute and turn negative the next. As leaders, it is your job to see what is coming and to prepare your people as best you can while fostering personal and professional growth within all whom you lead. We do an excellent job as leaders of making sure our personnel have the equipment and gear, they need to be safe and effective – and we should! But here’s an honest question for you? When was the last time you spoke to your department about the importance of developing relationships with key community leaders? Or asked them if they took the time to stop and to talk to the people that hang out at key locations about what they are hearing on the street or what concerns they have regarding crime or the community as a whole? You see when you start to create the relationships with those you serve, you start to see the community from their eyes. You start to see what their hopes and fears are and can actually fight crime at the fear of crime level rather than simply responding to calls for service. This is when you start to create a people-centric focus.
As leaders, we can lead by example. Take the time to develop relationships with each of your people. Understand who they are and what motivates them in their job. What are their goals, hopes, dreams? What skills need to be developed in each of them?
When you as a leader start to demonstrate your people-centric values, you and your people will then develop the necessary people-centric skills that grow from those values. Developing a people-centric focus will start to create partnerships within your communities that lead to effective and positive outcomes for all. Over time, your communities will start to see law enforcement as their “partner” and not just an enforcer or responder. To help show what I mean, I’m going to expand on just a few key values and skills I think will help you as a leader, create and foster the Servant Officers we need. Let’s start with some key people-centric values as a Leader of Servant Officers:
- Exhibiting Sanctity of Life – you understand that life is precious and that every life has meaning
- Value and Honor Others – are you taking actions daily to show your people that you value and honor what they do for the community. They need to hear this from you
- Create Partnerships – forge partnerships among your staff and encourage them to do the same as they patrol the community
When you work on showing and instilling the people-centric values as a leader of Servant Officers, you will start to see the related skills grow as well. Make sure you are finding ways to give your people the skill development they need to be their best, BUT make sure they are taking personal responsibility for their own skill development by clearly defining your expectations and offering them constructive actions they can take to develop their skill set.
Here are what I see as the most important people-centric skills that Servant Officers and their leaders must possess in today’s environment:
- Emotional Intelligence: This is a set of skills that are key to today’s Servant Officer and the leaders who lead them. Based on Daniel Goleman’s books, the key is to understand and develop your self-awareness; self-control; situational awareness; other awareness; and empathy. Learning where you are as a leader and where each of the people you lead are key to truly developing high emotional intelligence. Most of us are strong in some but may need work in other areas and that’s okay and encouraged for personal and professional growth!
- Ability to Connect with Others: Today’s significant servant leaders and officers understand the importance of connecting with others. When you take the time to really get to know the people you lead and understand and see them as individuals, it will in turn, help them foster the skills to connect with the people in the community they serve. Most cops, by nature, want to help people, but helping them build the skills to truly connect with the community members they serve will reap huge rewards for their growth and the relationship your department has with the community
- Ability to Speak from a Position of Authority: Our newest generation of officers are coming to the profession with what I call a slow-life strategy. Many, not all, have not experienced a great deal of independent decision making and thus, are more like 16-year-olds rather than the 21-year old’s they are. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does require that we as leaders recognize this and help them develop the skills needed. One of those is how and when to speak as an officer from a position of authority. Once they are on patrol, they will often be looked to for authority and dispute resolution. Helping them develop these critical skills is imperative. Leaders must show them how and provide quality field training to help them feel confident in their roles.
While these are just a few of the people-centric values and skills I teach in the Servant Officer class, these are some of the key ones that any leader who wants to cultivate and grow a department of servant officers should focus on to see sustainable results. Focus on your people first by making sure they understand what people-centric values you as a leader and department embrace and then help them use those to develop the skills that make great servant officers for your communities.
Have a great rest of the week!
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