All of us have been through tough, negative times for their police department. I was promoted to lieutenant during the middle of a five-year period of no increases in pay or overall compensation for employees. There were numerous different planned job actions by the police officers’ association in an effort to win political and community support. None of these had much positive impact for anyone and actually led some community members to question the level of professional commitment by the officers.
As a watch commander I found many employees coming to work with a negative perspective of their department and profession. It was a gut-wrenching environment. After months of these conditions (I wished I had not been such a slow learner), I learned two important things about leadership during difficult times.
- A leader doesn’t get to be negative during negative times. The leader doesn’t get to join the crowd that sits around complaining about how things are. The leader can’t reinforce the negative ideas and perspectives of their subordinate employees. The leader tells the truth, but if the leader doesn’t have anything positive to say the leader doesn’t say anything at all.
- The leader takes those negative ideas and perspectives and actively looks for opportunities to be positive. It could be as simple saying “yes things are not as good as we would like, but they could be worse.” This may not always be comforting to the employees, but it does not reinforce their negative perspective.
If the leader needs to be negative it needs to be done in very controlled environment. This will likely be the leader’s peers and/or supervisors. However, the leader needs to ensure the negative discussion doesn’t get back to the subordinates and it is very limited in duration.
Reinforcing negative thoughts doesn’t do anyone any good, especially a struggling organization. It just makes things worse.