- By Lawrence Borodkin
It has been refreshing to see the cultural shift in many departments due to changes at the top levels of leadership. While it has taken a while, more and more Chiefs and Public Safety Directors are realizing that the “command and control” type of leadership that has been prevalent for many years in the safety forces does not promote positive morale and in fact, can lead to a less productive and satisfied workforce.
ADMINISTRATIONS ARE NO LONGER IN SEARCH OF A “COMMAND AND CONTROL” TYPE OF LEADER
In today’s current organizational climate, administrators want a person who can both drive results and offer support to their employees. The more autocratic approach of the past typically brought with it union issues, conflicts with other department heads, and most importantly, a less satisfied employee population who allowed their dissatisfaction to negatively impact their interactions with the public. Police Officers, Firefighter/Paramedics, and Dispatchers are only human, and it should be no surprise that the authoritarian leadership approach led to poor morale. None of us enjoys working for an autocratic leader – why would individuals in the safety forces be content with this type of leader?
COMMAND STAFF IN AN AGENCY SHOULD CHALLENGE, SUPPORT, AND MOTIVATE THEIR PERSONNEL
It is vital that leadership in safety forces be both direct and supportive at the same time. It is highly probable that some people running shifts are either reluctant to have the tough conversation with the subordinate or swing too far the other way, being overly dominant and potentially blunt in the interaction.
Thinking about a recent command staff coaching engagement with an Assistant Police Chief of a local agency, it became very clear that his direct reports wanted him to be more accessible. According to his people, he always appeared very busy and had a stern look on his face. Some people found this style very intimidating. The Assistant Police Chief was not necessarily pleased with this constructive criticism, but, to his credit, he took ownership of it and altered his approach to his direct reports. His standard for excellence did not change but Officers felt a stronger sense of loyalty to him and the agency.
The tide is turning in safety force leadership and it is for the better. If communities want their citizens to be treated with respect and courtesy, the departmental leader must model that behavior.