I’m not a commander. I’ve never been a commander. I’m relatively certain I never want to be a commander.
There are responsibilities associated with that position that I can only imagine. The hours aren’t set, the public and political demands are high, and your people continuously complain because they never see you.
It’s just not for me.
I’ve come across a few exceptional examples of great commanders in my career. We know being a commander means you have extensive administrative responsibilities. The commanders we really admire are provided back up on a call, are there to take the report, and the ones who — on occasion — even pull traffic.
You know who they are: the captain who passes you in a foot pursuit yelling, “yeehaw!” or that lieutenant who always seems to get to the call first. You arrive, and she’s got a cup of coffee — and I mean in a porcelain mug, not a paper cup — in one hand and by her knee she’s got the suspects neck.
They’ve always been my favorites. They’re the ones who still love the down and dirty “fun” work we do. They’re leaders.
In reality, we cannot ignore that there are “politics” involved in being a police commander. There are special interests. I thoroughly enjoy my ignorance when it comes to the politicking required to survive at the command level. It has to be difficult to walk out of a challenging meeting with the people who control the financial future of your agency. How do you package that dead rat and sell it to your cops?
5 Ways to Make You a Better Commander
Here are a few suggestions I have garnered from line level personnel across the country:
- Don’t lie. We’re adults (even though we sometimes seem to act like kids at a frat party). If it’s a duck, it’s a duck. You don’t have to make it pretty, or modify the appearance of the packaging. We know that you have a boss too.
- Deliver your message personally. It never fails that when the head “you-know-who” in charge hands down a mandate or request the message gets skewed like an awful version of the telephone game.
- Be willing to walk the talk. Try to get out and see what your line level personnel are experiencing before you hand down a change. Things might be a little different than the last time you hit the mean streets. Poll your cops, give them some opportunity to offer solutions. If you are going to ask them to do something or require a certain standard, you had better be able to do it or your mandate will have no credibility.
- Take care of yourself. If you are out of shape, your uniform is a mess, you don’t wear your duty belt or vest in the station because it is uncomfortable, you are not going to look much like a competent leader.
- Most importantly, remind us that we are warriors. If you launch our briefing with a bag full of negativity, provide no hope, and send us out the door worrying even more about money, discipline, or all of your burdens, you put us in danger. Sometimes it is bleak, but we still get to drive fast, save people, kick butt and take names (within policy, of course).
All I can ask any commander is this: “When was the last time you had ‘fun’ at work? When was the last time you heard your battle cry?”
Your people want to hear it. They want to know what kind of amazing street cop you were as badly as you want to remember it.
They need to see your face — out on the street, not just on the news.
They WANT to support you. There is no money to give them, few incentives anymore… but your meat-eaters truly only need you to inspire them.
Get in the gym at the station. Acknowledge things done well by your people.
Lead them… by example.