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Toxic Leadership

Managerial behavior that distorts the real mission of an organization shouldn’t be tolerated


Lt. Jim Glennon | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My article last month, Ego Management, was about a major obstacle to effective leadership: personality. The principles for effective leadership are simple, but must be focused on all the time.

1.    People
2.    Mission
3.    Communal spirit

Simply put: Organizations exist only to accomplish a mission. Missions can’t be accomplished without people. People thrive in a positive and energized communal spirit. If anything overrides those three principles, then you have a problem. All three must work hand-in-hand. One can’t exist without the others; eliminate one and you’ll fail. The problem: Ego often overrides all three. For many managers, their ego takes precedent over the organizational purpose and certainly the people hired to accomplish the mission.

Personal idiosyncrasies, obsessive compulsive disorders, micromanaging, lack of trust and personal pursuits, too often supersede the organizational mission, the people and the communal spirit. This obviously leads to a toxic climate and mission failure.

Toxic Leadership Example
A sergeant, fifteen years on the department but fairly new to the world of striped sleeves and formal authority, sits and waits in his squad car. He’s strategically parked on a side street approximately a block away from an industrial park. The engine is off and he’s positioned in the dark shadows to avoid the moonlight. Next to him on the passenger seat is a pair of binoculars and a black-hooded sweatshirt. It’s 2:00 am. He stares intently at the screen of his mobile data device hoping to get the information he needs. He’s intent on catching his prey tonight.

The sergeant has eight patrol officers working his shift at this very moment. Not coincidentally, he has the same number of individual boxes on his monitor—the GPS tracking the status of those in his charge. He’s been staring at these boxes for at least 90 minutes—waiting and watching. You see, one of these officers is the prey he’s been silently stalking for the better part of his shift. 

The sergeant's actions above is a prime example of managerial behavior that’s toxic. We’ll refer to this first-line supervisor as Sgt. Slug. His purpose and motivation is as follows: He believes that his officers, too often, spend time parked rather than patrolling (the fact that this may actually happen isn’t the point here). GPS devices provide Slug with the tools he needs to catch police officers doing whatever he believes they’re doing.

On this particular night he’s after “George.” Why George? Well, it isn’t because George has a lack of productivity, is late getting to calls or causes any particular problems. It’s because this is George’s week to be under the microscope. Slug believes the officers’ numbers could be higher. He also thinks George spends too much time on his side business of fixing cars because he seems tired when he comes to work and often talks about how busy he is with auto repair and watching his two kids during the day. With this in mind, the sergeant believes George goes out after roll call, writes a couple of obligatory tickets and then sits in his squad car and sleeps for short periods of time during his shift. However, there’s no evidence or complaints that this is happening. 

So rather than talking to George, Sgt. Slug stalks, parks, watches and waits. And when he believes his computer screen has determined a stationary position of George that’s lasted too long, the clueless supervisor will pounce.

George has been parked for 20 minutes with another officer driving a separate squad car—a “look-out” Slug believes. The sergeant’s M.O. is to exit his squad car, put on the black hoodie, grab his binoculars, skulk through the bushes and, with the spyglasses set to infrared, he’ll try to gather the evidence he so desperately seeks: An officer with his eyes closed—and maybe even a second officer aiding and abetting.

Key Lessons Learned
Although this is only one story about a particular supervisor, I’ve been told similar stories by other officers around the country many times. The stories I will include in future articles will be true stories. Some I’m personally familiar with and others have been told to me and verified by several eye witnesses. I won’t reveal where these illustrations of idiocy have taken place, but I’ll state with certainty that these types of behavior aren’t limited to one department. Unfortunately, variations of this are happening with alarming frequency in thousands of organizations around the country on a daily basis.

For the above example, my questions are simple. Why is Sgt. Slug doing this? Why resort to this type of behavior? Why supervise in this manner? What’s his goal? What will this type of behavior do to the communal spirit on his shift? What will happen to the true purpose of his responsibility (the accomplishment of a mission)? What do his officers think of Sgt. Slug as a leader?
 
My questions could go on forever. There are so many issues and obvious problems with this type of behavior. But, it’s happening and will continue to happen in organizations nationwide.



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Lt. Jim Glennon

Lt. Jim Glennon, a third generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He is the owner of The Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. He is the author of Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.

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