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Friday, October 31, 2014

Learn to Use Criticism as Fuel

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon news on Monday, October 27th


I recently had the opportunity to attend a law enforcement conference and listen to Sandra Hutchens of Orange County, California, share with the nearly 700 attendees, her experience after being appointed Sheriff in 2008 by the Orange County Board of Supervisors by a 3-2 vote.  The appointment came after her predecessor was indicted on federal corruption charges in the middle of his term.  

Sheriff Hutchens has since run for election and is currently serving her first full term after the initial appointment. She jokingly stated that the bar wasn’t set very high by her predecessor. She quipped that by not getting indicted, she’s already a head above him.

But what I found extremely interesting was her account of the headlines that ran when she was originally appointed.  Sheriff Hutchens read though a stack of scathing one-liners such as, “They Picked the Wrong Sheriff” then stated with a chuckle, “Not a very warm welcome, huh?”

I began thinking about the immediacy in judgment and how quick the public (and the media) vilified her before she’d even had a chance to prove herself.  Given that the previous Sheriff was convicted for witness tampering after being investigated for accepting secret cash payments, engaging in illicit sexual affairs and taking political favors, it is interesting that Hutchens would be met with such opposition.

We have a tendency to see elected officials and people in positions of power as open-season for target practice and those who assume the positions have to be willing to take the hits.  

Don’t misunderstand and assume that no one should be questioned.  In fact, legitimacy is based on fact-finding and accountability to those we entrust to positions of power.  I’m referring instead to the constant barrage of criticism accompanied by the loose interpretation of the truth. 

What I find particularly amusing is how so many people stand on the sidelines doing absolutely nothing meaningful but still manage to criticize those who are trying to do good work.

It reminded me of the famous Teddy Roosevelt quotation:

“It's not the critic who counts. It's not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled. Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…”

This is a great lesson for those who get frustrated with the “anonymous” bloggers and posters on the internet and those who bark judgments while doing nothing of value themselves.  You’ll never see those critics offer solutions or roll their sleeves up to help.  Instead they remain on the sidelines lacking the courage to put themselves out there.

If Sheriff Hutchens had believed the critics, she might not ever have showed up to work.  And if she took the time to correct the misinformation, she’d never get any work done.  The same goes for the majority of the do-gooders who are trying their very best to fight the good fight with honor and integrity.  

Just the other day I was accused of teaching in Arizona on the Aurora taxpayers’ dime.  Had I not corrected the person in the highly populated venue, some might have believed the accusation to be true when in fact, I used my personal vacation time.  But what about all the untruths that are never corrected?  

It is extremely important to understand that someone simply stating something does not make it true.  

Those who are doing the work press on in spite of the criticism because they have learned that there will always be people sitting on the sidelines watching and judging those in the arena.

If there is one thing I have learned in this life, it’s this:  If you learn to use criticism as fuel, you will never run out of energy.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Role of Respect in Policing

I taught a class for our police department entitled, “Customer Service for Police Officers” and in it, I stood on my soapbox and said that I believe everyone should be treated with human dignity and respect.  I have written many columns citing the same and I will tell anyone who will listen that the day everything changed for me in policing was when I stopped looking “down” at people and I started looking “at” them.

This seems to be a difficult concept for many to grasp because we have a tendency to withhold respect from those who have broken the law.   Many police officers struggle with the notion that they should “respect” a criminal – especially one that has committed a violent or heinous crime.

The struggle to understand this concept is not lost on me but what I’m trying to convey is that we (the police) have a very specific job to do.  That job is to uphold the constitution of the United States and to use the tools afforded us to enforce the laws of our land.  Nowhere in the constitution does it tell us to cast judgment upon or to mistreat those who fall short.

But humans are complex and driven by emotions.  And cops are human.  With that, it’s difficult not to withhold our emotions when we are confronted with a child molester or someone who has committed an equally devastating crime against humanity.

Thus, we tend to disrespect the wrong-doer and that can manifest itself through excessive force or verbal abuse – neither of which is particularly helpful in the process of an arrest. 

The majority of police officers do not violate the law or policy and will carry out their duties in a respectful manner but they simply draw the line at “respecting” the person being arrested.  I think this is precisely what we should expect from those we entrust to uphold the law.

Besides, respect is esteemed.  When you stop and ponder those people you respect, you will likely note that they possess positive virtues.  But that’s not exactly the way “respect” is defined.  Respect is an active process of non-judgmentally engaging people from all backgrounds.  It is practiced to increase our awareness and effectiveness and is demonstrated in a manner that esteems us both individually and those with whom we interact.

Simply put, respect isn’t reserved only for those who have a moral compass.  If I interviewed gang members, I would probably find that they respect someone in the hierarchy.  I imagine I would also find someone who respects Hitler or another infamous person.

We all align to different principles and those we hold in high regard differ for each individual.  Police officers value the law and protecting the public.  When a police officer can carry out those duties and still be conscious of the fact that even those who commit crimes against society should be treated with dignity, the better cops they become.

In some abstract way, I came to understand during my years in patrol that the more I treated people with human dignity and respect, there was less propensity of my being hurt.  Respect is not trust so I never let my guard down, but I have found that when a person feels respected, it has a disarming effect. 

I may not respect the action that brought me in contact with the individual but I can certainly treat them respectful in the process of holding them accountable.

So, if it’s too much to ask to grasp the notion of “respecting” those who break the law, I can reframe it simply by changing the verbiage.  Treat those who have committed transgressions in a dignified manner while still holding them accountable for their actions. 

I’ve always felt that if we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are.  But if we treat people as if they were what they should be, they just might become what they should be.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tree Huggers and Warriors

This morning I posted an article on my Facebook page written by Mary Anne Case, a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, where she cited lessons from the 1991 Christopher Commission after the investigation into the police practices that led to the Rodney King beating by LAPD officers.

In her article, she claims that the police mistakes in Ferguson are the forgotten lessons learned 23 years earlier as cited in the Christopher Commission report.

I have no intention of dissecting the Ferguson incident, as I tend to be a collector of facts before spouting off an opinion.  After an emotional event, information of biased or misleading nature tends to be used to promote a particular point of view.  Having been a police officer for over 20 years, I’m smart enough to know that facts continually unfold and evidence is uncovered during a criminal investigation that can alter its course.

But I will speak to the premise in the Christopher Commission report that argues “macho tactics of the police and police-academy training overemphasize the paramilitary and physical and underemphasize interpersonal skills, sensitivity, politeness and the ability to communicate.”

Immediately upon posting this article on my Facebook newsfeed, a comment from one of my favorite dissenters surfaced (who also happens to be a police officer):

“We are paramilitary regardless of what all the tree-huggers think. If we start to turn soft while the world gets more violent we will have more dead cops.”

Therein lies the problem at its core.  Interpersonal skills like empathy, compassion and communication are labeled “soft” and those who emphasize the need for these skills in police officers are labeled “tree-huggers”.  I personally have never hugged a tree but I vehemently believe that the best police officers are those who know have both a servant heart and a warrior spirit.

We [police] are afforded the tools necessary to fight wrongdoing.  The United States Constitution affords us the right to search someone’s home or person.  This 4th Amendment Right is precious and when used in compliance with the laws of our land, we can seize evidence for criminal cases.  We can also take away a person’s freedom through lawful incarceration.  And the most mammoth of them all is the right to take a human life in order to protect human life. 

These are monumental and as such, they should be given careful responsibility.

But what we [police] sometimes fail to utilize is the most powerful tool of all:  our human influence.  These so-called “soft” skills are the reason that successful police officers don’t have to move to force so quickly and don’t agitate offenders to the point of becoming violent.

Police are the first line of defense for our communities and with that, we need to be ready for warfare at all times.  I don’t discount the necessity that our police forces comprise the militaristic maneuvers necessary to fight violent offenders.

What I’m suggesting quite vehemently is that those skills can be taught.  Give me a police officer that is a skilled communicator and is hard-wired for empathy and compassion, and we will train them to become a warrior. 

The argument is there are some who simply do not possess the skill of warriorship and to that my response is that police departments should recognize this while those recruits are in the academy and in the Field Training Program.  Not everyone is cut out to run towards gunfire.

In my humble opine, police departments should spend as much time training officers in interpersonal skills as they do in military tactics.  We should be recruiting officers who have elite communication and problem-solving skills.

There is nothing “soft” about a police officer with a servant heart who treats everyone – even those who break the law – with dignity and respect.  They can still hold the line and be a force against evil when they must.

Now I’m going go find a tree to hug.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Be Vigilant and Unafraid

As it approached midnight on December 31, 2012, I was eager to count down to the midnight hour so I could ring in the New Year. Like most people, I was ready to celebrate -- but for a slightly different reason.

I was watching the clock, listening to my police radio and holding my breath all at the same time.  On the final count down before the clock struck midnight, I raised my glass because we made it through 2012 with zero homicides in Aurora.

It was as though the planets had aligned and all the hard work done by the men and women of the Aurora Police Department, our citizens, partnering law enforcement agencies, and the State’s Attorneys had paid off.  We all worked tirelessly with the same end in mind.

Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to replicate that success. We have experienced seven murders in Aurora thus far in 2014 and the people we serve want to know why.

Interestingly enough, we have had roughly the same number of shootings as last year at the same time.  The difference is that death has resulted in seven of them.  While we can look at the numerical difference and not see much flux, the fact that lives are being lost is the cause for concern.

As criminologists will explain, crime fluctuates as a result of many causal effects.

There are social causes that stem from class, race, gender, family and neighborhood environment.  The health of the economy and the job market plays a role as well.  In short, just as there were many variables that contributed to zero murders in 2012, there are just as many that contribute to the ebb and flow of criminal activity.

I understood that we would enjoy a “moment in time” with no murders but I knew from historical data that it wasn’t a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” we would see an increase.

Like most large cities, we have gangs.  The majority of the shootings have been a result of violence stemming from rival gangs (and sometimes in-fighting within the same gang).

I can promise you that, as a police department, we are working diligently to solve these homicides and put the shooters behind bars.  These violent offenders are wreaking havoc on our community and it is our mission to “cut the heads of the serpent” (the gang leaders) so the gang organization will crumble.  Contrary to what most believe about gangs, they are very structured and there is a dominant hierarchy.

Our patrol officers are the first to respond to the scene of a shooting and it is their initial actions and observations that can lead to the apprehension of the shooter(s). Locating evidence and witnesses is crucial to the outcome of the case.

Our gang unit works tirelessly to collect data on current gang members and our investigators are subject matter experts on the different factions of gang membership.  They work on preventative measures as well as intelligence-lead tactics to combat violence.

Every division in our police department has a part to play in the apprehension, charging and closure of a case and we all have a clear line of sight to the end in mind: to eradicate these crimes in our community.  We will never stop working towards that end.

With that, we are not lone warriors.

As a member of this community, you are just as vital as the front line officers because it is from your eyes and ears that intelligence is gathered and crimes are solved.  You are an extension of our front line and the more vigilant you are in observing and reporting what goes on in your own neighborhood, the more criminals will not be able to thrive.

These are your streets and your neighborhoods.  This is our city.  Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Mean People Suck

When I was a kid, I had sticker affixed to my notebook that said, "Mean people suck".

My mom made me remove it because she thought the word "suck" was distasteful.  I now see her point.  There are many more ways to articulate displeasure for something without using an undesirable word; so to satisfy mom's disdain, I shall rephrase. 

Kindness matters.

When I was in my twenties, I had a list of character traits that I looked for in the people with whom I wanted to surround myself.  They encompassed virtues like ambitious, funny, and wicked smart.  Kindness didn't make the cut on my original list but twentyish years later, it sits as my highest virtue of all. 

Now that I've had a chance to witness humanity through my experiences as a parent, police officer and especially in my role as a follower to many different leaders, I recognize how imperative it is to be kind those people with whom I come in contact.  These days, I couldn't care less how smart you are if you aren't kind to the people around you.

This lesson unfolded over my years as a police officer when I started to understand that the kinder I was to people - even when I was arresting them or writing them a ticket - the more cooperative they were with me.  The more I treated people with dignity and respect (even those whose actions might arguably not deserve respect), the more respectful they were in return. 

I have worked for 23 years in a police department with a militaristic hierarchy of chain of command which means that I have worked under many different sergeants, lieutenants, commanders, and chiefs.  Unfortunately, from many I have learned how not to act.  I actually conducted my own personal experiment to see if I could get certain bosses who were known for their rugged dispositions to respond to my feeble attempt at interaction.  It became a game and fortunate to my own emotional livelihood, I grew from being disgusted to mildly amused by the results.

I remember how it felt when I walked into my lieutenant's office as a sergeant to ask a question only to have a conversation with the back of his head because he didn't turn around in his chair to look at me.

Humans are simple creatures.  We want to be recognized by other humans four our worth and our contribution.  Those who disagree might say that it's weak and vulnerable to want validation. My retort would be that you aren't quite courageous enough to grapple with vulnerability.  Vulnerability is only for the strong.

I spoke with some police officers on the scene of the horrific crash where they witnessed the death of a tollway worker and a fellow police officer who was critically injured.  They were upset because they felt that management had not been sensitive to what they encountered and instead, focused on policy violations.

These weren't weak and sensitive police officers. They were both strong in body and mind.  And they just wanted us to check in with them and ask how they were doing.  There's always a need to evaluate incidents and asses the things that may have gone wrong so we can prevent them from occurring in the future. However, we must first ensure that those who are risking their lives to save others are being taken care of as well.

It's pretty simple when you break it down.  People are comprised of many layers.  When you get down to the very core, we all just want to matter.

It doesn't take much energy to treat others with kindness at every opportunity. The reward for doing so might seem insignificant in the moment but the consequences of not being kind are far greater.

Mean people suck.  Sorry mom.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Motivation Comes from Within

I spend a great deal of time thinking about ways to motivate people because my position requires that I get work done through others.  Fortunately, this is not difficult as it sounds because the majority of police officers come to work and do their jobs because they are service-oriented and consummate professionals.

At home, I am constantly trying to motivate my children to do better and to be better.  This is a large undertaking when it comes to matters of household chores.  I used to believe that it should be a quid pro quo system — that one should get something as a result of output.  I’ve since changed my position and now I believe I shouldn't have to pay my kids an allowance for them to carry out basic expectations.  

My original thinking was based on the premise of an occupation.  If you have a job, one assumes you are compensated for that job.  Food and shelter are basic human needs and in order to pay for those goods and services, we need an income.  My children are provided food and shelter so paying them to contribute to the household seems like the wrong message to send.  I don’t get paid to keep my house orderly.  I do it because I take pride in my home and I want it to be a peaceful sanctuary.  If we go through life doing things only to gain something in return, we are constantly chasing validation and we often come up empty.

When I decided to become a police officer, I didn’t consider the salary. Like most who gravitate towards service, I chose it because I wanted to do something meaningful with my life.  I knew I would make enough money to meet my basic needs but there are certainly other occupations better suited for chasing a paycheck.

Those who are motivated by making more money and obtaining more things often find themselves unfulfilled in life.  We tend to believe that the more money we make the happier we will be and as a result, we are always chasing an abstract idea of success.  The problem with that is that we are never fulfilled.  It turns out the happiest and most motivated people are those who derive meaning from their lives.  

So from where does this motivation come?

Contrary to what we have always believed about a reward system, motivation doesn’t come from external places.  In his book, “Drive”, Daniel Pink makes a compelling case against traditional forms of motivating others.  He suggests that if you pay people enough that they aren’t thinking about money and they are thinking about work, they will concentrate on the work.  This is why salary and benefits are important for security.  But once those basic needs are met, Pink suggests that people are in search of three things:  autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy is the desire to be self-directed.  We want to be able to do our jobs without someone micromanaging us.  

Mastery is the itch to keep getting better at the things that matter to us. 

Purpose is the sense that what we do produces something transcendent or serves something meaningful that is bigger than ourselves.

I want our police officers to be self-directed when they do their jobs.  Naturally there are expectations of them to enforce the law and keep the peace in our community but they should be able to carry out these duties with autonomy and we should be able to have faith in them that they will fulfill the mission.

As they find their niche in the department, they should never stop striving for mastery.  That means that they commit themselves to constant self-improvement by feeding the desire to learn more and get better.  A patrol officer has many tasks while on the street while those in specialize units have a more focused job.  No matter what the position, every officer must challenge themselves to learn something new every day and move outside their comfort zone so they grow.

But I believe that a person will not feed the desire for mastery if they lack purpose.  Without purpose, we are simply carrying out sisyphean tasks.  Without believing that the work you do matters and that you are contributing to the greater good, you will lack the motivation to work at all; lest get better at your work.

When you are aligned with a greater purpose, work simply doesn’t feel like work.  Appealing to my children by telling them that they are a part of something bigger - a family - and their contribution to the things that need to be done in our home are indicative of what it means to be a family, works better than barking orders.  Instead of thinking about the things you have to do, start thinking about them in terms of the things you get to do.  Changing that one word can change your outlook.

Yes, people work for a paycheck because they have to support a family and make ends meet.  Receiving this compensation means that they will have to carry out tasks that are outlined in the job description.  But I have learned that you can buy a person’s back but you cannot buy their heart.  People will meet the expectations you set because of fear of punishment but they will meet them minimally.  However, if you instill purpose within them (heart), they will exceed expectations.  Always.

How we find purpose depends largely on where we look.  Sometimes, other people inspire us to be better and do better.  It is a gift when someone ignites a flame of inspiration and motivation within us.  But more often and more realistically, it is up to us individually to find our own purpose intrinsically.  When you align yourself to something bigger and when you begin to believe that what you do matters to the world, the satisfaction of doing well is its own reward and production is a natural consequence.  

If you want to be motivated, look for meaning in everything you do.  If you want to motivate others, inspire them to find their own meaning.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Getting "Buy In" Might be Overrated

Experts tell us that the way to effect change in an organization is to get "buy in" from people at all levels.  This concept is logical because it is based on the assumption that those who buy into the changes will accept them and thus, become a part of implementing the changes.

Personally, I think "buy in" is a bit overrated but not for the reasons one might think.

I will not discount the importance of every person in the organization being in alignment with the same vision and mission because that is ultimately what makes the ship change course. But that doesn't happen without an original idea--- and that typically is born in the mind of a lone person.

I believe that true innovators and change-makers don't think much about getting "buy in" when they are on the brink of something greater.  Steve Jobs' leadership style was very controversial but one thing that he believed resonates with me:

"A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." 

At first glance that might seem egotistical but the reality is that not everyone has the foresight to see possibility and opportunity.

Think about those who can walk into a house in need of rehab and see possibility -- those who can push past what is right in front of them and visualize what it will look like when a wall is knocked down or the structure is altered.  They have the ability to visualize the finished space when standing amongst chaos or hopelessness.

This is the same foresight a leader must have in order to take an organization to the next level.  They see what others don't and they don't necessarily feel the need to walk around and make sure everyone agrees with their vision before moving forward.

I've noticed that true innovators have the courage to stand in solitude for a while as they project their vision onto others.  If they are good, they paint the portrait so that others can see.  Even if the picture is blurry to others, true leaders don't necessarily wait to move forward until it comes into focus.

Instead, they begin planning, building and touting the mission as they continue to forge ahead in privacy.  It's part of the reason people describe the "top as being "lonely".  If the leader is able to persuade another person with their passion, something miraculous happens.  That person sees the value and joins the leader.

It seems to me that that first follower is just as critical as the leader because without them, a movement cannot occur. That first follower, like the leader, shares passion for the mission and soon, others begin to see it and follow as well.  This "tipping point" is the very thing that moves the entire path in an organization.  This is where the change happens.

There's nothing easy about starting a movement.  It's hard because people don't always see things in the abstract.  It's hard because failure is a real possibility.  Leaders who are innovators must have the courage to be ridiculed and criticized for their efforts but not allow the criticism to discourage them from movement.

Quite honestly, that's why leaders are rare.  Most people cannot handle the ridicule from those who stand on the sidelines.  It's not easy to be scrutinized by others who wouldn't mind seeing the leader fail.

Keep in mind that this sabotage might not be personal but instead their own resistance to change.  People have a natural tendency to remain unchallenged in their comfort zones and innovators threaten that comfort so the masses push back.

That's why "buy in" might not be as important as we once thought.  Instead I propose that it's more important to have a leader that has the courage to persuade others with passion and relentless pursuit of something greater.