How to avoid being a “Me and I” leader

In all areas of law enforcement, there is rarely a case where anything of significance is accomplished individually


By Cory Nelson

How many times have you heard a co-worker say, “I did this, and I accomplished that” with a “me” or two sprinkled in for good measure?  Was it off-putting to you and your co-workers? I have worked with a number of people like this and would always see officers rolling their eyes when that person entered the room.

In all areas of law enforcement, we know there is rarely a case where anything of significance is accomplished individually. Successful initiatives usually require two or more people, if not a team of individuals.

The next time your cellphone rings while you are talking to one of your officers, resist the urge to divert your attention. (Photo/Pixabay)
The next time your cellphone rings while you are talking to one of your officers, resist the urge to divert your attention. (Photo/Pixabay)

Do the “Me and I” folks really develop any kind of relationship with co-workers when their individual accomplishments are trumpeted over any team activities they were involved with?  

The “We and Us” group tends to garner far more credibility with officers since it is a much more encompassing term. Responsibility for success is shared among all.  

Why you should ignore your phone

Have you ever been involved in a serious conversation with one of your officers when your phone rang? Did you immediately break eye contact with that officer to see who was calling? It is becoming a natural reaction these days to immediately see who is calling or texting. How do you think the officer felt when your attention was diverted from what they were saying to who was calling? It makes officers feel they are less important than what or who is on your phone. It makes them feel their issues are minor and not fully heard. It makes them feel that just maybe, you are a “Me and I” type person and that you believe your concerns are more important than theirs.

Who could be calling who is more important than one of your officers at that very moment? Even your chief would understand a call back later, when you are done listening to your officer.

Years ago, I was talking to my supervisor about a concern when his phone rang, but he did not even flinch. He did not glance at it and made no move to answer it. He looked me in the eye and continued our conversation. It made me feel as though I was important to him, and he was actively listening to my concerns. I have never forgotten that.

Make a vow when you are talking to an employee to turn the ringer off your cellphone. If it still buzzes, make a conscious effort to not answer it, even though your natural reaction is to look. Your employee will feel as though you really care about them.

Invest time in your personnel

Listening leads to caring and the feeling of being cared for, leads to trust. Leaders cannot invest too much time into listening to our officers’ concerns. Officers, both young and old, long to be heard; they have ideas and opinions that are worth taking the time to listen to and understand.

Trust in an agency does not derive from a title. Just because you were promoted to a sergeant, lieutenant or captain, it does not mean your employees will trust you. Trust is built through time and shared experiences. Invest in spending time with your officers. Spend time in the breakroom, shovel the sidewalk for them during a snowstorm, have a cookout or dump the trash.

I remember little of the academy I attended 30 years ago, but I remember a lot about the training officers and supervisors I have had over the years. I remember their walk, their talk and their attitudes. I remember thinking of traits I wanted to emulate and the ones to avoid. As a leader, you are always being watched. Officers will be watching you and adopting qualities they value as formal or informal leaders.

Building trust takes effort and it may push you outside your comfort zone, but it will pay off handsomely in the future with people who will begin to trust you and your decision-making.


About the author
Cory Nelson is a captain with the Madison Police Department (MPD) in Wisconsin where he has served for 30 years. He is currently assigned as the commander of the South Police District. His past assignments included narcotics, SWAT, persons crimes, investigative services, focused deterrence, and professional standards and internal affairs. He was also responsible for bringing the concept of an opiate-related criminal diversion program to the MPD.

He is an alumnus of the National Institute of Justice’s LEADS Scholar program and is currently serving as an executive fellow of the National Police Foundation. He is a Wisconsin Law Enforcement Command College graduate, and now serves on the board of directors. He is an instructor for internal affairs investigations for the Wisconsin Department of Justice and has taught focused deterrence for the U.S. Department of Justice at a variety of national venues.

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