STONES IN THE STREAM
By Steve Staveley
If you are on one side of a stream that is too deep to wade across and too fast to swim and you want to get to the other side, what would you do? You can wait until time, good fortune, intervention of the good Lord or some event of nature provides you a path. You could carefully add rock upon rock building a series of touchstones or steps until such time as you can get to where you want to go. However, how do you know that the foundation you are putting the stones down upon is solid? All of this of course assumes you know where you want to go in the first place.
So let us assume we are talking about your law enforcement career. Do you know where you want to end up? Have you thought about your career path and how to get to where you eventually want to be? Maybe your long-term goal is to work homicide or ride a motor or work patrol for your whole career. Goals can be very useful and valuable to a career when preformed at a high level. What if your goal is to be a sergeant, a lieutenant or captain or even chief – what then? How do you build a path to that goal? What will be the foundation or principles in which that path will be built? The purpose of this paper is to provide the reader with a brief outline toward building the touchstones across the stream of your career. It does not mean you will get there. You could slip and fall. However, one thing is sure if you don’t build your touchstones on a solid foundation. You will have to wait on intervention from Mother Nature or the Good Lord or just luck. If you’re serious about your goals then you must start working now and know what to work on.
First, you must understand there are three things that are critical for true success in any police department and at any level or position. It’s just as true in every other kind of organization as well. You must be committed to the following:
- I am responsible for my own morale and attitude. Legendary basketball Coach John Wooden famously said that we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. He was right of course.
2. I am committed to the success of the organization even during difficult times.
3. I will never compromise my integrity.
The path to your goal begins with the first step. The first step is being really good at what you do now. Do you have to be the best patrol officer or investigator or motor officer? No, you have to be the best that you can be. In other words you are willing to give it 100% – the best you have to offer, day after day. You must understand the vision for the department’s future and work towards that every day. You must understand how the police chief sees the mission for the department and make sure you are working in concert with that mission. You must understand what I have heard called “Whining Sniveling Malcontents” (WSM) and what I have called “RECREATIONAL BITCHING (RB).” Both are a significant hindrance to your building your career path. WSM’s and RB’ing is the development of a cancer in any organization. A good chief will NEVER knowingly promote or transfer to a desirable position someone who practices WSM or RB. Why you might ask? If the chief does, he/she is seen as rewarding those activities that are so detrimental to the morale of the organization and the folks in it and even worse the chief is spreading the cancer in the organization. So why do it? The answer is you don’t.
With that understood and out of the way the next step then is to understand what is required to become a sergeant? The steps are listed below. Can you make sergeant without following these steps? Yes, however maybe it’s like waiting for Mother Nature to have lighting strike a tree and have the tree fall just so it makes a bridge over the creek. Just because you do everything I have said and take the steps listed below does that mean you will get promoted? No it does not. What it does mean is that you will be in the best possible position to get promoted.
I ASPIRE TO BE A SERGEANT:
OK then you must:
Obtain a college degree from an accredited educational institution. Use the definition of an accredited educational institution used by POST. Avoid the easy way here – do it right.
Develop a reputation for having a good attitude. A good attitude means you are a team player, optimistic about the future and others enjoy working with you.
Be a mentor to others and be mentored by several. Mentors are not like leafs that fall from a tree. You need to seek out folks to help you. Have several and if they are different from each other in training, interests and style, so much the better.
Attend a variety of training classes, especially those on supervision and leadership.
Read at least four books a year on supervision, leadership and management – books not articles. The articles are just to wet your appetite and sharpen your vision. The books provide the details of guidance.
Develop a reputation as one who understands and follows the saying “there is no right way to do a wrong thing” and is committed to that way of life. This is integrity with a really big I.
Work hard and do the best you can at everything – from a simple report to a complex investigation. This is especially true of the things you don’t even want to do.
Develop and practice a good working knowledge and understanding of the philosophy of the servant leadership model.
Work a variety of assignments and collateral or supplemental assignments.
Become an active member of a professional association such as the CPOA. The networking is of great value.
Focus on keeping a wider variety of friends in your life. It’s easy to slip into having only cop friends. To keep your thinking expansive you must have a variety of associates and friends.
Start to understand the budget. Your mentor can help you here. It is key to the next several steps in the organization.
Have a comprehensive understanding of the Mission, Values and organizational intent of your department – what does it aspire to be?
Become aware of a sergeant’s role in discipline – mentoring again.
Have a comprehensive understanding of the department’s manual/rules and regulations and code of conduct.
I ASPIRE TO BE A LIEUTENANT:
OK then you must:
Everything above applies to this next step and I add the following.
Obtain a good working knowledge and understanding of how the police department is part of the city team. If you get a chance to work on a multidisciplinary team (combined cops, code enforcement, planning department, JUMP AT IT. You will learn a great deal. Do it for free if you must.
Develop the ability to make decisions that are in the best interests of the department not just your own team, watch, bureau or even department.
Take the next step on developing an understanding of the budget. If you can, volunteer to help the department build its budget, but at a minimum take a couple classes on budgeting in a municipal setting.
Develop courage to make a decision. Often that is very difficult to do and easy to say.
Develop those unique subordinates. Einstein was a bit of an outcast and just because one of your subordinates is a bit different does not mean that might not successfully contribute and maybe, just like Albert, make major contributions.
Develop a mentoring mode. You should have been exposed to several mentors by this time in your career and now it’s time to give back. Don’t just mentor those folks you like, mentor anyone who comes to your door.
As a sergeant seeking your lieutenants bars it is vital you attend the SLI (Supervisory Leadership Institute).
Understand the role of the POA/Association /Union in the organization and how to work with them while understanding their role is for the benefit of its members. It’s not wrong, but it’s a limited role.
Strive for consistency in how you treat people. Follow the golden rule in all your work.
Make sure you have a good working knowledge of the discipline process, your role in it, and the role of the whole of the chain of command right up to the appointing authority. Understand the chief’s philosophy regarding discipline and the systems your department uses and why.
Lieutenants must have a comprehensive understanding of their role in daily audits and inspections of the operations of the police department.
Lieutenants must have a personal community outreach program and if not, you should start one now. That means engage in community activities. Join the Lions Club or make sure you are attending community events. Look for those opportunities to help with department outreach activities.
Practice your public speaking. Some have a natural gift and it’s easy and for others it’s hard. Everyone is improved by developing their presentation skills and that has to be done in front of people. You can teach classes, help the department by doing public presentations at service clubs and the like – whole bunch of ways, but make it a priority.
I ASPIRE TO BE A CAPTAIN:
OK then you must:
Keep working on all of the above items.
Mentoring is more important now than ever – both to teach others and to learn from that effort.
You should be considering growing your skills as a writer by publishing professional articles in the CPOA or IACP Journals. Share what you know. It’s not about your ego; it’s about becoming a more effective writer and more importantly helping others by mentoring via the written word.
Keep working on that “approachable” reputation with subordinates. That comes from how you treat people. Never be guilty of rumormongering and be present where your subordinates are as much as you can – “You cannot lead from your office.”
Seek to understand what your chief does. You should also attend the NEW CHIEF’S workshop put on several times a year by California Police Chiefs Association. With this knowledge your job is to provide the chief with active support.
Develop and maintain a significant networking relationship with others in the profession. Strive to be able to have a professional relationship with at least one manager in your county or area and especially with those agencies near you.
Attend the Command College and if you can, the FBI National Academy. The more important of the two is Command College, but both are worth attending. Your preparation is all about being ready when you are needed. You should apply as soon as your can – after two years as a lieutenant.
You should be reading at least four books a year, plus two newspapers and local blogs. Take that information and start looking for ways to innovate your delivery of service to the community.
Look for opportunities to work with other cities and departments.
Seek to innovate – to do this you will need to know what is going on around you. This is professionally in your department and in other departments and government structures. To do this you must ban from your thinking and vocabulary “WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY”. So What! You’re trying to develop your skills to innovate, not for the sake of innovation, but for the sake of improvement.
I ASPIRE TO BE A CHIEF:
OK then you must:
I am tempted to write here “ have your head examined”, but the truth is that being a police chief is the hardest and best job you will ever have IF you have the skills and you approach it right. This is the job that gives you the chance to really make a long term difference in the lives of the people of a community and to help your people get the most out of their experience in serving a community.
Take the POST executive development program.
If you can, attend Harvard and other good schools that offer Executive Development programs – often for top government and business officials. This is an important consideration if you or your agency has the resources to do it.
Learn the City Manager’s job or better said, what is his job is really all about.
Develop a comprehensive understanding of the city budget. Do the same with the consolidated funds report.
Have a working knowledge of the budget of each of the other city departments.
If you have a public utility, understand its budget, its reserves and how the “enterprise” fund works in your community.
Make sure you are active in the community you serve. Service clubs, Chamber of Commerce and the like are vital points of participation.
Know if you are willing to leave your current organization and if so, decide the size of the organization you seek. As a family, make the decision if you are willing to move – maybe to the other end of the state or out of state to get that job.
Ask several chiefs you respect about the transition plan they had and what worked and what did not. Find out what they learned in the job of chief – what was different than what they expected. You will be surprised.
Ask your current boss to take you to local chiefs meetings as well as Cal Chiefs or state chiefs meetings for training. If the IACP meets near you, attend.
Make sure you have a leadership position in CPOA or in your local commanders group.
Look for opportunities to work across departments to build your reputation as one who can take on new challenges and be successful
Talk to your city manager and a couple of others and ask them what they expect in the department head – and then what they expect in a chief of police.
As I began this paper (and I had lots of helpers to get it written) I was trying to provide a path for sworn officers, but almost everything I ended up writing applies to professional employees as well as sworn employees. Maybe a position title is different or a specific class or association reference is different, but the steps are otherwise the same and the stones on which you build your career are the same.
The key thing to learn here is that there a very few people in this world who become successful who don’t have these two things in spades – a good attitude and a willingness to work harder than everyone else. I have never seen anyone reach their goals without having both in place and active in their work and personal lives.
Police work is great and being a leader in such an amazing profession is better still because you get to help others do the vital things that build communities and insure the cause of justice in our society.
Have hope, work hard, enjoy the ride.