As leaders, there are terms you hear bantered about on a regular basis that are great conceptual ideas, but often lack real-world practice – culture, vision, mission, purpose, alignment, value. Typically, it is not the lack of desire to implement these concepts, but a lack of concrete know-how. So, Thin Blue Line of Leadership is going to give away the answer for effectively implementing the concepts of culture, vision, mission, purpose, alignment, and value with the least amount of time and effort necessary. Ready, here it comes . . . BUILD A TEAM!
Right about now, some people reading this might be thinking, “Wait, aren’t terms like culture, vision, and mission supposed to build the team for me?” The answer to that question is a simple “no.”
The concepts mentioned above are great for formulating the background of a team and defining the reason that a team needs to exist. But, in order to effectively implement culture, vision, mission, purpose, alignment, and value with a group of people, each individual must feel they are an integral part of something bigger than themselves. A part of something where each member feels like they truly belong and are among others that believe similarly to the way they do. Only then will they be willing to give their blood, sweat, and tears to make culture, vision, mission, purpose, alignment, and value work effectively for their squad, precinct, department, or organization.
Here are 7 core values for building a law enforcement team . . .
- Know the why.
There are 3 pieces to every team: the what, the how, and the why. What and how are typically the easy parts to understand; they define what the team does and how they do it. For example, we are police officers that enforce the law and here is the ginormous book of General Orders that says how to be a police officer. The why is where it becomes a little more complicated. The why is referring to the reason a person ever wanted to be a police officer in the first place; that core belief inside that drives them to run towards danger for people they have never met. To build a team, the leader must know their why and maintain it as a strength throughout their career in both good and bad times. Then, a leader must learn their officers’ why’s and cultivate them in much the same way the leader does with their own why. Finally, the leader must be willing to talk about it. Talk about their why and their officers’ why’s on a regular basis to keep the why fresh in the front of their minds through each and every shift. This provides purpose, value, and clarity to the members of that team.
- Be a leader.
Being a good leader is not a theory. Being a good leader is taking concrete, positive actions for the good of the team and repeating them over and over and over. The key piece to the last sentence is that it must be for the good of the team. The leader must put the needs of the team above their own with the realization that ultimately the success of the team equates to their own success. A good leader must be authentic. They cannot walk around the department pretending to be something they are not because over time everyone will see through the charade. A good leaders knows their own character, strengths, weaknesses, and values to the extent that they can clearly articulate them to anyone who will listen. Lastly, a good leader recognizes that they must give long before they can expect to get from their team. Until a team knows that a leader cares for them and has their best interests at heart, they will still be just a group of individuals. To build a great team, there must be a great leader.
- Actively create culture.
Culture . . . one of those magical words that gets thrown about leadership circles, but only a few can define. So, here is the definition of culture – it is the prevailing actions and attitudes of a team demonstrated over time. Actions and attitudes, it really is that simple. To begin actively creating a culture, a leader must first know what they want their culture to be. What are the actions the leader would like to see their team value the most? Once the actions are defined, then a leader must nuture the attitude with which they want their team to carry out those actions. Recently in law enforcement, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the attitudes or mentalities with which officers do their job. Are we warriors or are we guardians? The leader of the team must make that distinction, exemplify it on every shift, and expect the same from their officers. The key is that the leader must be intentional about it. If the leader does not step up and steer the culture in a particular direction, then a culture will still form, but it may not be the desired one. The final question that must be answered is when do law enforcement leaders have the opportunity to actively create culture when officers work the majority of their time as one or two officer units? The answer to that is simple – to actively create culture, it must start in the briefing room or meeting room for leaders that are higher up in the department. By defining the actions and attitudes of the team over time in a briefing setting, where everyone hears the same words at the same time, the leader is able to efficiently share their cultural vision with the team. As law enforcement professionals, we have to win in the briefing room before we can truly expect to win in the community.
- Build unity and loyalty.
Unity and loyalty . . . Aren’t those 2 of the greatest words to have around when it comes to being part of a team? When unity and loyalty are present, trust is flowing in all directions within the squad, precinct, district, or department – top down, bottom up, and laterally. But, there is a caveat to this and that is that there are just some people that won’t buy-in to the concepts that help build a good team. Regardless of the amount of effort expended on creating the right environment, they will just never get it. So, the leader has 2 options. They can decide that they are just not going to do anything to build a team and therefore they lose everyone. Or, they can work hard to build a team and get the buy-in of the vast majority of the people to create something really special within their department. There is no great secret to building unity and loyalty. It is one of the oldest concepts around. Treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s it. If you want to build unity and loyalty, then no matter how difficult the situation is, just ask, “How would I want someone to treat me under these circumstances?” The consistent practice of that concept will take a person a long way in their growth as a leader that creates positive cultures based upon unity and loyalty.
- Exemplify and expect personal accountability.
Personal accountability is a tough one for many because it means stepping up and taking responsibility when the world is falling apart around them and/or their team. Personal accountability is easy when everything is going great, but not so much when things are turbulent. Leaders must be cautious about forcing personal accountability upon their teams because if it gets crammed down their throats, they will immediately reject it. To bring personal accountability to the team, the leader must first exemplify it to their officers to show how it is done and how it leads to positive growth both personally and for the team as a whole. They need to see it first because the greatest fear in applying personal accountability is that they are going to get themselves into some kind of trouble when they do it. The best thing about applying personal accountability is that it puts the leader in control of the situation. The leader is saying through their actions and attitude that “the buck stops here.” Once that control is accepted, the leader must begin asking questions that lead to solutions and not allow themselves to fall into a victim mentality. Here are some examples of personal accountability questions – What can I do? How can I learn from this mistake? What can I do to make a difference today? How can I be better? Because each of these questions is based on the concept of “I,” it puts the leader in control of developing a solution to whatever the problem is. After the team sees personal accountability applied by the leader day in and day out, they will also begin applying it to their tough situations. Having a culture based upon personal accountability is one of the biggest differences between having a culture of mediocrity and a culture of excellence.
- Show recognition.
All of the above listed concepts are great, but they do not mean a thing if they are not engrained into the culture of the team. A leader has the amazing opportunity to pick and choose what gets engrained into a team’s culture by being selective of the actions and attitudes they recognize, reward, and promote. But, it all starts with the leader first having a vision of where they want the team to go and how they want them to get there. They must define the path and the goals to be achieved if the path is followed. Then, the leader must focus on finding behaviors that officers are doing that support that vision. When actions and attitudes are present that support the leader’s vision, it is imperative of the leader to recognize them and find ways to reward them for the behavior. One of the simplest rewards a leader has at their disposal is verbal praise. When giving verbal praise, do not just say, “Good job;” be specific about what the behavior was that made it good. If the leader says, “Good job, I really like the way you took the time to calm that victim down before doing the interview,” then not only has the leader praised the officer, but they have defined what exactly the behavior was they liked. After recognizing and rewarding something like that, what do you think that officer is going to do they next time they interview a really traumatized victim? That’s right, they are going to take the extra couple of minutes to talk to the victim on a human-level before getting down to the facts of the situation. After recognizing and rewarding the behavior, it must be promoted. One way to promote positive behaviors is to bring them up in briefing with the rest of the team around. This creates a second opportunity for the leader to recognize/reward the officer and then promotes it to the other member of the team. Obviously, the bigger and better the behavior, the more substantial the recognition, reward, and promotion should be. For example, if due to the heroic actions of an officer a person’s life is saved, then hopefully the department has some kind of official life saving award that can be given to the officer and thus the promotion of the behaviors goes to the highest ranks of the department. The key is to remember that what gets rewarded gets repeated.
- Make people feel safe.
To build a team, a leader must make the people on the team feel safe. Safe is not referring to the inherent dangers of the job. Safe, in these terms, means from the internal turmoil that can be present within an organization or the team itself. When there is turmoil within a group, like backstabbing, complaining, or general apathy, then no member of the team will ever feel safe within the group because they are always worried about what is going on when they aren’t around. It isn’t until they feel safe within their team that they can go out into the community and do their best work because they know that the team has their back. Creating that sense of safety is the job of the leader. When there is safety within the team, the natural reaction is the development of trust and cooperation. Trust and cooperation will lead people to do amazing things; things that are above and beyond the call of duty. When an officer stays late to help another officer impound a bunch of evidence, that shows that they have a level of trust and cooperation built. That trust and cooperation comes back in spaded when that other officer is wounded on a call and the team comes together to rescue him or her in the face of danger. In order for this level of trust and cooperation to exist, everyone must believe at their core that the other members of the team would be willing to do the same thing for them. Ultimately, people just want to feel like they belong. If there is a strong sense of belonging among the members of the team, then trust and cooperation will flourish among the group.
Instead of looking at culture, vision, mission, purpose, alignment, and value as 6 different items that a leader must work at getting across to their group, look at it as the single task of building a team. Think back to the best teams you were ever a part of and ask what it was that made those teams so special. What you’ll find is that the team had culture, vision, mission, purpose, alignment, and value in what they were doing. By building a team, the leader is creating a lens which each individual officer can look through as they go about doing their job each shift and see things in a similar manner instead of through just their own individual perspectives. Only then will officers be willing to drop their own personal agendas and give their blood, sweat, and tears for the good of the organization and the community.
If you would like to read further about these concepts, here are some good reading suggestions:
“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek
“Entreleadership” by Dave Ramsey
“QBQ! The Question Behind the Question” by John Miller
“The Energy Bus” or any other book by Jon Gordon
“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek