Three lines which challenge views on public safety engagement.

VCFA conference draft 4

In January 2010 three public safety organizations participated in a ground breaking study on engagement in public safety. In the course of the study over 600 police and fire officers and administrative staff responded to questions relating directly to their engagement. What made this study different was it was developed by serving public safety officers who have placed their lives on the line with the rest of their team mates. They not only know the culture, but have received advanced degrees in H.R, and so developed questions that were directly relevant to the professions. While most surveys take a top down approach to the engagement of the employees this study looked at engagement from the bottom up. Change your perspective and new insights arise in looking for  the causes of old problems. Then new solutions can be developed more likely to work instead of the same old solutions that may not be relevant to a new generation of workers.


The study included 49 questions pertaining to the level of knowledge employees had of their organization prior to employment, assessed their intentions to stay with their organization, as well as equipment issues, and internal communication issues. Some of the results of the study were published by the FBI in the December 2011 edition of the Law Enforcement Bulletin.


Conventional wisdom says employees begin work in public safety with enthusiasm and as the years go by their engagement slowly drops. Well , the research suggests otherwise. The problem on the loss of engagement is not solely with the individual but on the organization as well when it contributes to the disengagement of employees through the lack of responsiveness to the needs of employees.  When you look at the PowerPoint, at the bottom of the blog, you will see three lines. These are the three lines which redefine how we need to look at public safety engagement. The lines represent the question and results of the most important question in the study, what drives your engagement or disengagement:

  • My organization is mostly responsive to my ideas and I have increased my performance and willingness to suggest ideas: 1

1.8% .

  • My organization is mostly responsive to ideas and responsive to ideas and I am satisfied with meeting organizational performance standards and do not wan to suggest ideas: 2.3%.
  • My organization is not always responsive to my idea, but O continue to suggest ideas and maintain my high level of performance: 51.1%.
  • My organization is not always responsive to my ideas, but I will continue to maintain an acceptable level of performance and suggest some ideas: 27.4% .
  • My organization is mostly responsive to my ideas and I have increased my performance and willingness to suggest ideas: 1



People do not simply give up when their organizations are not living up to expectations. No, they fight, scream, and kick, before they finally give up and sink into disengagement. People do try to suggest ideas and make changes which they believe will improve their organizations. It’s when they feel they are ignored they begin to give up, and this is not something that starts at 10 years into a person’s career. We found it may begin immediately upon employment. That’s why it is so critical to be honest with applicants about who you, the organization, are and provide a realistic picture to perspective employees. Once someone is hired and they feel they have been misled to they are going to be upset and get angry. Do you want an angry, disengaged, employee who be on your payroll for the next 20 years. It’s not worth it just to met your recruiting goals.


As individuals move up their organizational charts with more responsibility, and take on a more strategic role, they begin to loose connections with the first line officers. As the commander makes long term strategic decisions based on his or her needs, and that of the organizations budget, they can forget that this decision making  has a real world impact on the officers and their willingness to perform. The officers in turn, try to either say, “I’m on board and let’s rock, “or “Hey this is a bad idea and I have a better, cheaper, way of doing something.” When the officers feel they can not get their feeling known to people who can make changes, or worse yet feel they are being ignored, they become frustrated. Frustrations turn to anger, and anger turns to disengagement.


This does not have to happen, but to avoid it the command staffs must open their eyes, and try new things. For instance, give up on out dated managerial ideas that were created during the “greatest generation”, and stop listening solely to professors who have little or no real world experience and even less in  public safety simply regurgitate ideas that worked in the past and rehash old studies in order to obtain job security in their university. No, simply think outside of the box. Better yet, create a new box for others to try and think outside of. Do something radical, get out of your office and talk to the officers. If they have an idea which makes sense, is financially viable, and benefits the organization, let them run with it. Take your egos out of the equation for the benefit of your most valued asset: your officers who do the grunt work everyday.


Take a look at the Power Point, again. If every organization is operating at the same effective level, imagine what you could do if you move simply 15% of the people who said their organization was not listening to them but they were fully engaged and move them to the 11% who stated their organization was fully responsive and they were fully engaged. You would be a Rock Star in the world of Performance Management, with only 26% of your organization stating they were fully engaged. People would be beating down your doors to find out how your organization is now the mega-star in public safety.  You can begin to do this by simply changing your top down perspective to a bottom up perspective and make the changes that need to be done. If you don’t believe me, try it and see. If I am wrong then I guarantee you will have still learned something new about your organization. If I am correct, prepare to move into your new home, because your local government is going to raise your salary or a large organization is going to recruit you. It is your choice, to remain the same mediocre organization or seek to become the Rock Star Leader you have the potential to become.

Ordinary People Doing Heroic Work Everyday


While preparing to teach a seminar on situational leadership and leadership branding, I was approached by a friend offering advice. He stated that I should discuss the techniques professional coaches use to create world championship teams. I thought about the idea for a few minutes and decided “no”. Not just “no,” but “Hell No”!


Let’s see, professional athletes are truly gifted individuals, not like mere morals. They play sports to make money, no problem there. However, both the National Football Leagues and National Basketball Association players just went on strike for more money. Not that earning money is wrong, but when players make comments such as: “This is about putting food on my table and I may have to sell a Bentley,” we have certainly skewed the perspective of the American dream.


The reality of the situation is these players are independent contractors who work for a team. The coach is actually someone who must create a picture that focuses everyone on a single mission: win the game, or your value may decrease. Every year, the average players’ contracts are up for renewal and each one tries to get the most money, because there may not be a next year. They want the ball so they can improve their statistics and use that as leverage in contract negotiations. The team owners want to win; the players want lucrative paying positions. These are not the people I want to talk about as leaders, after all they’re playing a game. At the end of the day they all go home safe. 


I want to talk about the firefighter who gets a house fire call at 3:00 AM and jumps out of the bed while saying, “Let’s Rock.” The EMS crewman responds on a hot July day to an intoxicated person who has fallen down and urinated all over himself. The guy should probably go to jail, but he has a laceration to his forehead and must be taken to the hospital. or how about the EMS worker tells they guy, “Its OK, I’ll take care of you.” The rescue crews who respond to an overturned vehicle where the front seat passengers are mangled, but there is a shout that a small child in the rear seat still has a pulse. You hear several rescue members yell, “Come on, I’ll get under there.” Several members slide past the remains of the parents and take care of the injured child as other members use the jaws-of-life to pry open the car. After it is all over, the child will survive and the rescue workers patch each other up from the scrapes of metal and shards of glass. Finally, we have the police officer who makes a routine traffic stop and finds himself fighting for his life to arrest a violent offender. Everyday these events, or something similar, occur across America.


These brave people do not have camera crews following them around, they do not hold out for multi-million dollar contract extensions. They perform these dangerous jobs because they are truly willing to give more than they receive. These are ordinary people doing heroic work everyday. These are the people I want to talk about in a leadership seminar.



Organizational Branding: More than a Logo – It is a Way of Life

A Vision and Mission statements describes your organization and where you want to go in the future. When in doubt, it provides a platform for people to make decisions, eg. a potential action is consistent with the values of the organization.
The Brand is much more; it describes what makes your organization special and differentiates you from the rest. The organizations brand strikes at all of the senses. It is more than a logo, it is a way of life. It answers the question, what does it mean to work for your organization? It should describe your history, customs and traditions that differentiate your organization. It connects and engages current employees to your organization. It energizes and builds pride in your community and potential customers. It attracts potential employees to you, while repelling potential applicants who may not “fit” well within your organization.
The potential impact of your organizational brand is enormous to your organizations success. Every organization has a brand. You can either control it yourself, or someone else will be in control.

You Inspire Your Team to Excel or Fail

Everyday you inspire performance. Your actions will either inspire someone to go above and beyond their job requirements or barely meet standards. It all starts with you and your attitude. If you are positive, bring it to work. A positive attitude is contagious and can be used to create, or enhance, your team. Try having a team cookout during your lunch periods. Develop a logo just for your team, a symbol to rally around when things get tough. It is difficult for people to meet after work, so use your time together at work to develop a team history. A proud history helps develop esprit de corps. You  know you are better than the other teams.

If you are having a bad day, try to limit your contact with your team. It is easy to turn your bad day into a bad day for everyone in your team. Remember, misery loves company, but nobody loved misery. Try to find something to be positive about around your team, so you can limit the damage. Work through the issues that are dragging you down as soon as you can. If your bad day drags your team down, then your tomorrow will probably be much harder.

As a leader, you have the ability to impact your teams and inspire performance. You make the chooses that either inspire outstanding performance or further misery.  YOU make the call on how you INSPIRE.

Self Discipline: The Key to Success or Failure

Go to any bookstore and you find rows of books on “The Hidden Secret to Success”. Everyone wants to know how people became rich and powerful. Why don’t you see books titled, “The Key to My Not So Secret Failure”? Success and failure are simply different sides of the same coin. In truth, knowing why people fail is just as important as to the reasons people succeed, maybe more.

Sometimes the best plans fail, and the worst plan succeeds. How much does talent, persistence, and luck play into every endeavor? By examining where people fail we learn more about ourselves than through other peoples successes. As we learn about failure, we have to ask, “Given the same set of circumstance what would I do?” Where the obstacles in the way insurmountable, or did the person simply quit?

Many have heard that Thomas Edison made over 2000 attempts to create the light bulb before he was successful. Edison had both time and financial backing that allowed for his persistence. Edison was also brilliant and had unwavering confidence in his abilities. Now think about the guy who gave up after his 1999 attempt. Maybe he had a better light bulb, we will never know.

The keys to success and failure are not simply intelligence, finances, perseverance, or luck. The key is self discipline and it sets effective leaders apart from others. A self made millionaire once told me, “When I came to America, I couldn’t speak the language. I had no skills, and look at me now. In America if you are intelligent, have courage, and most importantly have self discipline you can be a success.” Self discipline sets the stage for success. It also allows someone to turn a failure into a success. I have seen people snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory simply because they did not have the self discipline to follow through to complete projects. Sometimes, people have the self discipline to start a project, but go too far, because they don’t realize what success looks like. They reach the pinnacle success and then go over the hill, because they don’t know how to stop.

Self discipline sets the table is the thin line that separates people who are successful from those who fail.

Understanding the use of “Power and Force” in modern business

If modern business organizations understood those two principals of “Power and Force” the potential of American industry could again be unleashed for our benefit. In many instances people confuse and intertwine Power with Force. Power and Force may seem similar, but are in fact completely different in how they are generated and applied. There can be no force if a person has no power. If a person has power, but choose not to use it, then they are not going to be effective.

People who head organizations have “Power” based on their positions within an organization – direct power; or, by people wanting to follow and be led by an individual – indirect power. The higher up you go the more power you have. Simply stated, the greater authority the greater the power. Power can then be broken down into hard or soft power. With hard power you make commands and edicts based on your power and authority to reward or punish. With soft power other techniques, sometimes call coercion, are utilized to get a specific task completed. As an individual moves up in an organization and receives more power they must learn restraint. Unloading a lot of power at once only leads to destruction. The careful application of power is a technique that must be mastered through understanding of the principals of force.

Force requires action; greater the action the greater the force applied. With enough force, a large round piece of wood and be shoved through a small square hole. Force is broken down into positive and negative force, with the effect graded by the amount of destruction caused by its application to any given situation. For example, a middle manager may hate all of his subordinates and want them all gone, but does not have the power to make the decision; therefore, he has no force to use. A CEO of a company has the power to hire and fire people. He or she may fire and individual or the staffs of an entire business unit, depending on the amount of force he or she cares to use. Likewise, the CEO may use targeted power and force and fire the middle manager, thus relieving the subordinates of a potential tyrant who wanted more power.

It has been said that power corrupts absolutely. This is only true for people who are not disciplined with their power. Someone may have a lot of corrupt power, but if they do not unleash the force of it then it has no impact. Likewise, a powerful person who is benevolent can still inadvertently unleash a plethora of untamed force and harm an entire workforce.

So, which is more dangerous, power or force? Power is more dangerous. Power is the stored accumulation of energy that gets turned into force. The amount of destruction to a workforce is measured by the force applied, but may only be a pittance to the amount of power that could have been unleashed. Therefore, business schools need to develop curriculum that teach and describe how to gain power in one semester. How to force is used for good and bad the next semester. In the last semester utilize a capstone class to test to see if a person can build power and use the potential force correctly.

As people apply power to develop American industries, it must be understood the force from such action will have an impact on other countries and their industrial complexes. Power and Force can not exist without each other. They can be used to ones benefit, but someone else will see their application as destructive. It is always better to be on the positive effects rather than suffer the negative effects. Machiavelli and Sun Tzu understood the principals and how to correctly apply them centuries ago.