Promote With a Plan
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The value system police managers create for themselves and those they oversee sets the stage for their eventual success or failure, so there are certain principles that must exist for the first line supervisor to excel. Most of us yearn for useful tips and frequently look for motivation from inspired writings with exhilarating new ideas. Leadership books have countless pages filled with catchy acronyms to help learn and remember ways to better direct and encourage others.
Unfortunately, we often lack the time to absorb or even apply any of the information received. If you have recently promoted and want some genuine straightforward, yet relatively structured advice, focus on committing to truth, accountability, and trust. Demonstrate a commitment to the truth, hold yourself and your officers accountable, and then find ways to show your officers that you trust them.
Truth can be elusive and often exists somewhere amidst all of the conflicting information we receive in the law enforcement profession. Not only are we troubled when we can’t locate it during criminal investigations we conduct, it often is hard to find when we need to make important personnel decisions.
When confronted with dilemmas or problems, first search for what you can confirm is accurate. If you can’t find it, take a step back and look harder. If something only seems to be, ask the right questions to determine legitimacy. If you adhere to the truth, you will only have to validate what you know and can confirm. Align first with suitable values, understanding that ethical mistakes will taint your validity as a leader forever.
Truth is the safest thing to be committed to and it doesn’t even involve a necessity to analyze policy or engage in politics. When those on your team see that you adhere to the truth, you can press forward to establishing the credibility to hold them accountable.
Setting a standard of accountability and holding yourself answerable to others are the first goals. As long as you can justify your conclusions, making excuses for them should never be necessary. Be willing and alert enough to take on something before it spins out of control, or you’ll end up confronted with defending it after it is over.
If that happens, you will battle with truth and the temptation to abandon it. Officers need ropes to bounce off when they are knocked around by the unavoidable frustrations of the profession so communicate quickly to them what you won’t tolerate and reward them quickly when they succeed. Don’t pass off your unpopular decisions as being from higher sources when you made them yourself and refrain from soliciting advice from those affected if you have already made up your mind on something.
These actions can be truly catastrophic to your career, are disingenuous, and will push your officers farther away. State your expectations clearly and your officers will have a course to follow. Once you have commanded the concept of accountability you can begin to work on trust. For trust to exist, your ethical composition must be firmly in place and understood by all, including your fellow supervisors. If you are holding yourself and others accountable based upon sound ethics and adherence to truth, you will have the foundation for trust to develop.
All of us at some time were trusted by someone to do something critical for the first time. Someone else had to take a risk to allow whatever that was to be possible. When you promote, there will come a time you need to start trusting those you supervise.
You will be disappointed on many occasions because you take a chance and lose, but remember the times you were trusted and failed. You still made it and your employees can too. That leap of faith could be what finally allows them to perform at a higher level. Start getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Once you have established truth and accountability in relationships with your employees, you must have confidence in them. Once you do, they will eventually trust you too.
The faith you have in them should encourage your employees to think on their own and begin their journey to replace you in management some day. Everyone needs a chance to make important decisions on his or her own and allowing your officers to feel the gratification of success will empower them to lead others in the future.
Putting It All Together
The promotion to Sergeant within a police agency should be purposeful, not just an achievement. Having a general plan for the transition that will occur after getting your stripes could be more crucial to your success than the accomplishment itself.
Your officers should be able to see your values in everything you do. They will be watching you more carefully than you think, so take the time to commit yourself to truth, hold yourself and all of your officers accountable, and have faith and confidence in them. Odds are they will be grateful and eventually follow you down any path you take them.