Many supervisors, new and experienced, fail developing their leadership skills and officers. New supervisors desire acceptance and respect by their officers, yet often miss perfect opportunities to mentor officers and correct undesirable behavior early in their working relationship. Experienced supervisors sometimes believe that they have achieved success already and are no longer required to develop their own leadership style. The acronym S.M.A.R.T. can be used to help officers and supervisors easily remember some steps to build on their own leadership skills.
I know. It seems odd to start anything with the word “stop”, but when it comes to leadership, it is important. We must stop undesirable behavior immediately. We have all been sitting in roll call at some point in our careers when the supervisor passes down a directive, policy amendment, etc. from the administration that everyone does not like or agree with. Without fail, an officer makes a smart comment in front of the others. What often happens is that other officers join in the “discussion” and before you realize it, everyone in the room has a negative opinion of the matter. I know that this happens because I was “that guy” for years. For many years, my own supervisors allowed me to continue behavior like this and failed to correct me. My supervisors counseled me about the behavior. It happened so often, that I didn’t realize my behavior. My supervisor suggested that at the next roll call when a new directive was passed down to make it a point to not say a word, but to simply sit and observe the room. As hard as it was to do it, I did just that and was shocked. I noticed that the room was silent and all eyes were on me waiting for me to start the “discussion”. It was an eye opening moment for me and I made a conscious decision that day to stop the behavior.
From the moment that we reach any supervisory rank, especially on an operational level, it is our job to help motivate officers. All officers aren’t encouraged and motivated on equal levels. Some officers like compliments publicly; some prefer to have an email documenting a job well done, while others may simply want a quick “thank you”. Giving some officers added responsibilities is motivating because it gives them a sense of importance and shows them that their supervisor trusts them. A couple of years ago, I was assigned to supervise a new squad. While meeting with each officer individually, I discovered that one of my officers wished to be promoted during the next process. I decided to delegate some of the smaller supervisory tasks to him to complete. I also asked the other officers to reach out to him first for advice and input on their investigations, calls for service, etc. This trust allowed the officer’s confidence level to grow as he learned how to think fast on his feet, be accountable to deadlines, and manage tasks. I am happy to report that this officer competed in the next promotional assessment and was in fact promoted! Motivation is usually improved in response to following the remaining steps listed below.
We must advocate for our officers. If an officer is doing a great job, then it is our responsibility to make the department’s administration aware. It is extremely important to meet with each of your officers and find out what their interests are, their strengths, and weaknesses. If an officer desires promotion or assignment to a specialized unit, how can we advocate for them? Seek out opportunities to allow these officers to lead. If an officer is tactically proficient, allow the officer to lead squad level training on officer safety topics such as building searches, vehicle approaches during stops, or other appropriate opportunities. Afterwards, document the completed task in whatever departmental procedure that you use so that it can be referred to later during performance evaluations. Sending officers to instructor training, S.W.A.T. training, investigative training, traffic enforcement training, and other specialized training, allows supervisors to advocate for the officers based on their desire to work in a field that they have a strong interest.
Nothing will bring an officer/department’s morale down faster than internal conflict. We must address these conflicts in a timely manner. I have been involved in situations over my career, both on an officer level and as a supervisor, where internal conflict adversely affected the squad’s performance. As an officer, I noticed an officer known to have an upbeat personality and strong work ethic suddenly became quiet in person and on the radio. The officer’s work performance all but stopped. While speaking with the officers on the squad, it was apparent that this officer wasn’t alone. A supervisor’s attitude was what was affecting the morale of the officers on the squad. I addressed the officers’ concerns with the squad supervisors, which led to an overall improvement. I have also fallen into the trap of not addressing officer’s concerns on a supervisory level. There have been instances where an officer’s concern was brought to me to address where my response was, “the administration is aware of the issue and nothing has ever been or will be done about it”. This was a huge mistake on my part, not only as a supervisor but as a leader as well. Whether or not the conflict is resolved, your officers will see that their concern is important to you. More than likely the issues are probably minor and have never been addressed.
We must all seek out training throughout our career, whether we are officers, supervisors or administrators. Our world is constantly changing and the ways in which we police are changing. For the department heads, it is important to approve requests to attend newly developed training for your officers. As supervisors it is important for you to seek out training that will not only benefit the officers you supervise, but also for yourself. Attend leadership and senior level management training that will better yourself and your agency. Bring something back with you that you learned and share the information with your agency. As we mature in our careers, we often find a niche for teaching others in certain areas such as officer safety, community policing, or firearms proficiency. It is important that we pass on useful information to others. After all, it is our responsibility to train our officers to one day take our place.
Though the steps outlined above are not a cure all for every problem that may develop, investing in your officers on a daily basis makes the process of discovering and addressing issues much easier. S.M.A.R.T. Leadership is not to only for supervisors. Officers can, and should, use it to help motivate each other. When officers feel that their supervisors trust them, care about their interests, acknowledge accomplishments, and will fight for them, those officers usually work hard at meeting the agency’s strategic goals.