Toxic Boss Blues: Fighting back against poor police leadership
The following is an excerpt from Steve Neal's book Toxic Boss Blues (Dementi Milestone Publishing 2014), a candid telling of life in law enforcement and the devastating consequences of poor police leadership. Neal is a veteran police officer out of Virginia with 29 years of experience on the force. Neal currently provides leadership training to peace officers via his co-founded consulting company Leatherman & Neal Consulting. Toxic Boss Blues can be purchased at ToxicBossBlues.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com.
The leadership and oversight of those working in rigid hierarchal organizations is at best an inexact science. It is imperative that the reader does not mistake the positive management concepts found in Toxic Boss Blues with supervisory weakness. Respectful and artistic leadership should not be misconstrued as lowering standards, kinder and gentler policing, blue ribbons for all participants, political correctness, or the wussification of law enforcement.
Discipline, authority, and command are essential elements of every strong and effective work environment. Excellent leaders do not coddle or tolerate poor performance. If teaching, training, guidance, and tutelage fail to develop an employee, then stakeholder integrity dictates that the worker must be properly separated from the workforce. Professionals know how to coach, mentor, correct deficiencies, and enforce standards of success without being rude, hostile jerks.
Mean spirited, malicious, discourteous, discriminatory, or deliberately hurtful behavior towards law enforcement officers by their bosses should never be acceptable. The “contempt of cops” by those in the chain of command creates toxic boss blues. Poisonous bosses who devalue, denigrate, chastise, and humiliate in the name of discipline and learning are operating from a platform of ignorant aggression.
Great leaders combine dignity and decency with order, prerogative, and governance. The best amongst us understand that treating other people as if they matter encourages constructive relationships that pay huge dividends in the workplace. Civility, tact, and gracefulness are sophisticated leadership skills that facilitate greater employee pride, self-respect, purpose in our work, and enhancement of our product.
Law enforcement is one of the most noble and awe-inspiring professions in the world. Nearly all peace officers join the family of public safety because they hold honorable and principled belief systems close to their hearts. Our brothers and sisters demonstrate enormous integrity, are filled with compassion, and truly serve the needs of others every single day. Public safety officers willingly put themselves in harm’s way and live the biblical quote “Greater love hath no man than this, one lay down his life for his friends.” Law enforcement brethren keep the peace and ensure the security of the homeland.
Not everyone has what it takes to meet the demanding requirements of the law enforcement profession. Many agree that there are numerous values, beliefs, and behaviors that are commonly shared by a majority of successful law enforcement officers. One of the great contradictions of public safety is that some of the same traits and characteristics needed for extraordinary achievement, if applied conversely or taken to the extreme, cause tremendous stress and pain for the guardians of our domestic freedoms.
Sadly, toxic bosses are found everywhere. The culture of a workplace is often shown by its principles, beliefs and what is considered accepted behavior. Good leaders question, probe, assess, validate, and challenge on a regular basis. When the culture is positive, it encourages individuals to adopt appropriate activities that promote respect of others. In contrast, the toxic leader often creates an atmosphere of negativity and dissention, as opposed to inspiration and camaraderie. While obvious even to a casual observer, toxic managers hamper creativity, depress learning, frustrate conversations, and impede innovations.
In law enforcement circles, it is often said that threats from the street are potentially lethal, but that the threat from the enemy within is a far worse hazard to a law officer’s health and well-being. When nastiness is allowed to flourish in a toxic management culture; confidence, assertiveness, decisiveness, teamwork, and values-based supervision can transform into vicious bullying, untruthfulness, arrogance, indecisiveness, immorality, micromanagement, revenge, and retribution. The evil of toxicity and negative behavior exposes our peace-keeping warriors to unnecessary and potentially life threatening dilemmas.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” Few vocations on earth adorn its practitioners with the vast authority granted to civilian police officers. Because they cause such dreadful harm to a remarkable occupation, our journey will focus on the toxic few who fail Lincoln’s test of character.
Ladies and gentlemen, management toxicity, a plague denied by many in leadership positions, is the elephant in the room for public safety. Practitioners know that the problem is real, and that its impact is poisonous. A large percentage of officers feel far more stress from their own supervision, than they do from simply doing their job. More than a few officers believe they have been victimized by those who are in charge at their own workplace.
Another way of looking at the oddly paradoxical problem of public safety toxicity is through the lens of excessive force. The application of excessive, unnecessary, or improper use of force against the public is rightly one of law enforcements pivotal issues. Yet, far too many officers are experiencing unnecessary, unreasonable, and repugnant psychological force heaped upon them by their own bosses. Why are toxic bosses allowed to get away with applying indecent prerogative to their organization’s most valuable assets?
Agencies with high turnover and low morale have a plethora of incompetent toxic authority figures. The most valuable weapons against management tyranny; knowledge, courage, and righteousness, will help to marginalize the enemy within and mitigate the toxicity. Those best able to accurately identify the toxic threats, understand their impact, and implement effective survival techniques are those most likely to persevere and prosper.
I have enormous respect for all in law enforcement who serve admirably. Performing principled work in the streets is an astoundingly honorable endeavor. The goal of Toxic Boss Blues is to keep law enforcement employees healthy by identifying and neutralizing the deadly management viruses that combine to form the killer from within.