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Megalomania and law enforcement training

How many police officers and recruits have heard a law enforcement trainer begin a sentence with something to the effect of, "I'm the only one..."

How many of you have worked with or trained with someone who came off as if they thought they were the only one who could teach you whatever the topic was? It is one thing to be confident in your knowledge or skills in the topic being taught. It is a completely different thing to believe you are the “only” one who can accomplish something. This mindset might come from a condition known as Megalomania (see also, Narcissistic Personality Disorder), a psychiatric disorder in which the patient experiences delusions of great power and importance.

There are several very good trainers available to law enforcement personnel. Most of them are competent and modest trainers letting their skills speak for them. Then there are some who feel that the law enforcement world as we know it will suddenly collapse and dissolve if they are not put in charge of all aspects of training. These trainers would rather deliver some ego-driven diatribe about how they are the only one that can do the training right.

It is expected that a trainer is confident in his skills. Indeed, it is absolutely necessary that a trainer be confident and competent. As with most things, too much can be a bad thing. When the overconfidence turns into megalomania, it becomes a problem. In order to help illustrate the difference, here is a tale of two trainers.

A Tale of Two Trainers
There once was a lead academy trainer (“Joe” for the purpose of distinction) who was considered a great trainer. Joe had a quiet confidence that was awe inspiring. He was extremely competent and he let his expertise show through his actions. He was open to the ideas of others and in fact would seek validation of his ideas through the other trainers. With the input of other instructors, Joe developed a solid lesson plan. Joe’s secret was to remain centered and open to the ideas of others. Joe’s story has a happy ending; he was extremely successful and enjoyed several years of success.

Another lead academy trainer (“Mike” for the purpose of distinction), who had an instructional career that started much like Joe’s but took a bad turn and ended differently. One day Mike decided that he had transformed into the one true prophet who had no equal. Mike announced that “he” was “the only one” that could deliver the training right. He sternly warned any opposition that if the agency did not follow his training that “officers will die.” From that day forward he started to become a “one-man-show.”

Mike began to believe this delusion based partially on the feedback from his neophyte students while completely ignoring the warnings from the other seasoned members of the training cadre. Indeed, the need for self-approval became so strong and his identity so closely married to the feedback from the recruits that he would do anything to win their approval including changing the entire curriculum so that they would “have fun” while completely ignoring the lesson plan. He was no longer interested in the ideas or opinions of the other instructors. He was unresponsive to the concerns of the command staff about the type of training he was delivering. In his mind, he had truly become the only one.

Mike’s megalomania caused such tension within the training cadre that the other instructors felt compelled to leave the program before it imploded into itself. This was of no consequence for Mike since now he would be able to bring in less experienced trainers that would mindlessly follow and worship him. Eventually the program did implode and Mike was removed as the lead instructor.

Mike’s condition and his growing fanaticism would not allow him to see that he had become his own worst asset, causing him to lose the one thing that helped to establish his identity. His narcissistic rage caused him to blame only others, and his new life mission became only to undermine the new lead instructor. Mike’s story has a sad and miserable ending.

The Warning Signs
There are many warning signs that a trainer may have these delusions of grandeur. Officers seeking training should listen to the commentary of the trainer for these signs. A couple comments that are easily identifiable are (if you ever hear a trainer speak any of the following phrases, my suggestion would be to stay away from that trainer):

1.) “There are others that can do a good job, but I am the only one that can do it right.” A person that makes this claim is nothing more than an egomaniac and needs to do a serious reality check. This profession called “law enforcement” progressed long before he was around. Although he made some significant and positive changes while he was involved, the profession will continue along just fine without him.
2.) “If you do not train in my way, officers will die.” This is a very scary statement. It is self-serving and a morbid prophecy to announce. Is this trainer actually hoping that officers will die in order to prove his point?

Officers seeking training should also be aware of false claims of success. One false claim of success is a trainer publishing his own “research project” to validate the success of his own training. A researcher should never attempt the validate something that he/she is a vested interest in through a research project that is designed, administered and analyzed by the same researcher. This would be similar to a medical study that is questioned by many because it was done under the aegis of a major pharmaceutical company. Any first year research student can immediately see the fatal flaw of researcher bias in this “research.” This bias, referred to as “confirmation bias,” is described as the tendency to look for and perceive evidence consistent with the researcher’s own hypotheses and to deny, dismiss or distort evidence that is not (Lilienfeld, S. (November 2010), Fudge Factor. Scientific American, vol. 303, number 5, p. 18).

Instructors should have an interest and a passion for their topic. They should remain current in their craft in order to stay relevant. When the passion becomes completely consuming it turns into an obsession to the point that the trainer becomes the megalomaniac as described above, he can become dangerously closed minded to the validity of the ideas of others.

After the obsession phase comes the fanaticism phase. Here the trainer will not only believe that he is the only one but will do everything in his power to undermine the efforts and credibility of other trainers.

Never Stop Learning
Our profession thrives because of the different thoughts and opinions of officers, deputies and trainers. One becomes better when they learn to respect the opinions of others even if they do not agree with these opinions. When an officer sees the ideas of others, he or she should look at those ideas objectively. If he/she disagrees with the topic, it is important that they express their disagreement so that others can see an opposing viewpoint. If they choose to comment about the idea, they should remain mindful to keep the comments to the topic without turning it into a personal attack about the trainer.

The point is that we are better as a collective with all the years of experience being shared with each other. Even if it is a discussion an officer disagrees with, he or she should take that opportunity to learn something from it and become a better operator. Once an officer feels they have accumulated enough knowledge they may decide to become a trainer on any particular topic. Even as a trainer, never stop learning. Once a trainer has become “the only one,” he or she has become obsolete.

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