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Friday, February 15, 2008

Leaders Think Different

Here’s to the crazy ones.


The misfits.


The rebels.


The troublemakers.


The round pegs in the square holes.


The ones who see things differently.


They’re not fond of rules.


And they have no respect for the status quo.


You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.


About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.


Because they change things.


They push the human race forward.


And while some may see them as the crazy ones,
 We see genius.


Because the people who are crazy enough to think
 they can change the world,
 Are the ones who do.


We can thank Apple, Inc. for the snippet of wisdom they used in their 1997 advertising campaign for Apple products.  Apple tapped into the intrinsic nature of human beings to question authority, to defy logic and to color outside the lines. 

The profession of law enforcement is seemingly contradictory to such rebellion and relies heavily on Standard Operating Procedures, policies and a militaristic chain of command to lead with involuntary compliance.  The frolic of a computer company’s catchy advertisement campaign has little relevance to traditional law enforcement nor can a comparison be drawn to bring the subject matter to a common ground.  Or can it?

The days of following on blind faith and answering “how high?” on the command to jump from a superior are becoming a way of the past.  The new generation entering the field of law enforcement is different than those of your father’s generation.  The baby boomers and traditionalist’s respected authority and did not question it.  The Y (“Why”) generation earns their namesake from the relentless thirst for questioning their purpose.  The hardware on one’s collar holds little significance to the young generation who respects original thought and innovation over rank and file.  While many may suggest that the changing times are for the worst, I would argue the merit that this transition brings. 

Questioning the status quo, if done respectfully and appropriately, forces us to seek new solutions to the common problems we face in our profession.  Eliciting input from all levels of the organization is the newest trend cited in law enforcement management books.  Community oriented policing emphasizes partnerships and the concept is being shifted to the organization as well as the community.  The bureaucratic police department is a thing of the past and the power once associated with the top level command is being relinquished to line level personnel.  The shift in power creates a dichotomy of sorts because those who hold command positions ultimately find that giving away power leaves them with more of it.  The result is increased morale and a higher level of job satisfaction from all members of the organization.

The concept may seem oversimplified and I would agree that it is.  Despite the contrived ease in shifting to an agile organization, control is by far the most difficult thing to relinquish.  Many leaders in an organization would find it difficult to accept being questioned and would hardly tolerate the notion of giving up their power and control to the line level.  In tangible terms, shifting the power means implementing new ideas from all levels of the organization (including civilian).  It means that the silver accessories on an officer’s uniform are not a direct correlation to their intelligence and creativity when compared to those with gold garnishes. Shifting power means taking a risk and leaping from “that’s not how we normally do it” to “let’s try a new way and see what happens.”  It means that the organization’s leaders must have the courage to fail.  The true leader accepts the risks associated with making mistakes and recognizes that failing to try is a failure in itself.  It also means that the leader must be able to say “we” as opposed to “I”.  When there is a success, it is our success.  When we fail, the leader assumes that burden. 

I proffer that the organization whose leaders practice empowerment will find that they ignite the hearts and minds of their employees.  When employees feel valued and a part of something bigger than themselves, production is a natural consequence. 

And so we find that an advertising campaign for a computer company has something to teach a profession that has succeeded it by nearly 150 years.  We learn that those leaders who are crazy enough to think they can change the morale of an organization by changing the traditional way of thinking are the ones who often do.