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Leaders cannot quit when dealing with quitters

Embarrassment that a quitter is in the ranks is one thing, but as a law enforcement executive, just noticing is not good enough

I watched a recent episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” in utter disgust, but not disbelief. When eight-time All-Star, four-time World Series champion Darryl Strawberry virtually begged to be fired it was surprising but not shocking. After all, he had given up before choosing drugs over his place on a baseball team.

Quitting and teamwork are just not a good mix. Teams, including those consisting of law enforcement officers, are stifled when positions are occupied by the apathetic. With every member expected to fulfill a valuable role, quitters not only create a void that jeopardizes success, their actions require adjustment by the entire team. Moreover, quitters actually can generate diminishing returns.

Consider the homicide investigator who is just one question away from developing a lead to solve a case, but instead cuts off an interview. Or the agent on surveillance whose half-hearted effort results in a target’s noticing that he’s being watched. And the recently-solved kidnapping case of Jaycee Dugard demonstrates how a victim’s misery can be extended when law enforcement officers are not diligent.

I shudder to think about how many cold cases exist because of quitters. Slackers just don’t care — they are just passing time. As a teammate, you probably have held these slugs’ actions in contempt wishing they would go away. Embarrassment that a quitter is in the ranks is one thing, but if you are in charge, just noticing is not good enough.

Team leaders can ill afford to ignore the strain quitters put on an entire team’s ability to focus on mission accomplishment. Yet it goes on all the time. Part of the reason that a quitter can cause so much damage is the amount of time many of them are permitted to hang around. And in the case of the female boss, in my own experience, I felt I was the one expected to be the miracle worker. Have you ever felt this way? Up until your arrival, the “quitter” was just someone to be tolerated with the team learning to function around this individual’s shortcoming. But when you arrived, the behavior was expected to change, and if it didn’t, you were not doing your job because the quitter is still at it. And you know what? They are right. Even though a woman may be subjected to a higher standard, in this situation it is not an unreasonable standard.

What’s a woman to do, especially if I just described you? First, pinpoint the problem. You can not ignore the fact that a quitter is in your midst. In addition to all of the negatives this person brings to the team, you also risk losing the respect of your team if you sweep it under the rug. Further, if you ignore the problem, you risk your own boss taking notice that you avoid the difficult and uncomfortable tasks that come with the job.

Second, face the issue head on and solve the problem. This does not mean that you ask to have the person moved to a new unit. As a law enforcement executive, such a request used to make me crazy. There is little to be gained by transferring a low performer from one place to another; generally, you just move the problem. And even if you are successful in convincing your supervisor to do this, now you look like the quitter.

Instead, how much better is it for everyone involved — including you — if you deal with the defeatist attitude once and for all?

Since persons subjected to a double standard really do have a slimmer margin for error, dealing with the problem is your only option. And here are some helpful tips in doing so:

• Conduct an advising session with the individual in question and let them know that you have observed their work and have seen a tendency to operate in the quitter mentality. You must give concrete examples of how you have reached this conclusion. Place him or her on notice that future evidence of quitting will be confronted and dealt with immediately.
• Encourage compliance as much as possible as the most favorable outcome is performance improvement.
• For monitoring purposes, meet with the employee on an established schedule (i.e. once per week) to revisit areas of improvement and compliment when there is progress.
• Most importantly, keep your word. Follow through with the plan you have set with them during the advising session.

Holding people accountable is the solution for many social problems - including a quitting attitude. If the problem officer shows signs of improvement with increasing regularity - keep things up until he or she reaches an acceptable level of performance. However, if it’s business as usual with no sign of progress, keep a written record as proof of indolence and start the removal process. It has been said that it “takes an Act of Congress” to get rid of a government employee, but that’s an exaggeration. What it does take though is tenacity. The reality is that you aren’t the one getting rid of a quitter — he or she actually “left the building” a long time ago.

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