Lead, follow, or hide? Smart female officers lead their teams
Some advice for female police leaders
By June Werdlow Rogers, DEA Special Agent in Charge (ret.)
I agree with Margaret Thatcher who said “you cannot lead from the crowd”. Albeit unknowingly, some leaders do try. Some even hide.
Self-assigned positioning provides a way to examine hiding in the context of leadership. Let’s use a street drug buy operation as an example. To accomplish a safe and successful mission there must be cover provided for undercover personnel and surveillance on all parties. There will be many officers on the street for any drug buy, but just one person in charge. I submit that if the leader assumes a critical assignment, he or she in effect is hiding in plain sight.
A commander who takes on the role of monitoring undercover conversation must be intent on listening for signs of trouble. Since much of the action surrounds the undercover meeting, it is acknowledged that a boss may be tempted to be the principal on monitoring electronic transmissions. However, doing so increases the possibility that an important message conveyed by surveillance is overlooked. This key role where any attention is diverted from the deal to process information reported by surveillants is a risky place for the boss.
A commander who becomes the point person in watching a significant target, among other things, must focus on observing what the subject is doing, and reporting observations via two-radio - while close enough to see what is going on but not too close to get made as a cop. A person assuming such an intently focused assignment also leading an operation is problematic.
Finally, a commander who becomes the undercover agent must focus exclusively on this demanding and unstable activity. Survival and mission accomplishment requires skill and complete concentration. Moreover, to avoid compromising an undercover officer’s identity, communication with other officers that can be overheard by targets should be avoided. Consequently, commanders in this all consuming role are in no position to have intelligence passed to them, let alone process it, making leading impossible.
Like every team member, the boss has a key role. Police agencies depend on commanders’ experience and attention to make good calls. The downside to street commanders taking on restrictive roles that narrow their focus is that they also interfere with leading.
Seeing the big picture and getting important information are essential to making superior decisions - many of which must be made quick and immediate from whether to abort or proceed with an operation to which targets to continue or stop following.
When commanders do not assume the leading role, often no one is in control and a situation goes downhill fast. A posture of stepping back to “see where this takes us” can lead to calamity and is a shameful attitude for a leader to adopt. It is troubling whenever I learn about commanders dumping on subordinates for making operational mistakes that an attentive boss could have prevented or stopped. Moreover, when called on the carpet, hiding bosses cannot justify their dereliction of duty on having written themselves out of the script of responsibility.
Consider the scrutiny and criticism Social Secretary Desiree Rogers faced with the security breach at the White House during a State Dinner. The spotlight on her came with the probe of how party-crashers were able to circumvent checkpoints manned by Secret Service personnel.
It turns out that Ms. Rogers sat during the dinner as a guest. She had no one from her staff working along side the Secret Service to eliminate access by the uninvited. The problem with Ms. Rogers’ being seated during dinner is the fact that she was in the picture, which crippled her ability to see the picture.
As the boss, there is no one to tell you where you should be – it’s up to you to decide. If things go bad, pointing out that others do the same won’t save you. The double standard that women face means though a tactical error is repeated many times, you are less likely to find sanctuary. This taken with the high stakes for failure (in this case, danger to the President and his guests) makes it essential to figure out the best spot to enhance your ability to lead during special events and operations.
What’s a woman to do? Try this tip. First, find the one place where you can see the most. Go for as much of a panoramic view as possible. Next, ensure that you are positioned someplace that makes you as accessible as possible to the people that report directly to you so they can depend on your leadership.
To be able to call the shots you have to be informed, attentive and reachable.
Operations localized with a single mission probably call for the street while multiple simultaneous enforcement actions may be best commanded from an operations post. Either way, you decide. But know that the more you are in the picture, and the more hurdles placed in the communication path of those expected to discharge duties you assigned them, the less likely you will be able to apply direct fixes; thereby increasing chances that things can blow up.
Flawlessly executed operations only appear that way from the outside. It is rare that any important event or operation goes off without a hitch regardless of how well planned. Unforeseen situations arise. Success is assured only when as fires attempt to erupt, there is someone equipped to extinguish them.
Avoid self-assigning in the worst place such as a tasking you should hand over to a subordinate. Hint - if you are working, the more exciting a spot is, the more distracting it can be to discharging your duties.
Women who inadvertently shirk their leadership responsibilities by “getting out of the way” are doomed. When “ACTION” is announced, go for the director’s chair instead of the blinding limelight – you’ll have a better vantage point and thus edge to success!
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