Police leaders: Are you giving your officers enough recognition?

Often the greatest gift we can give is a pat on the back when someone in our department goes above and beyond our expectations


A few years ago, when my son was 12, I coached his baseball team for a tournament on Cape Cod. At the end of every game, the players sat on the bench and the coaching staff went through what the team had done well, and more specifically, noted superlative plays performed by individual players. Each player sat in intense anticipation, hoping that his name would be called and that he would be recognized in front of all his teammates.

We All Seek Recognition
This is just one small example of how we are conditioned, beginning at an early age, to crave recognition. Starting at infancy, our parents and caregivers recognize and applaud our first words and steps. When we reach childhood, our teachers encourage us by giving us an abundance of verbal praise for our elementary reading and writing, as well as emerging social skills.

During our teen years, we seek to distinguish ourselves by making the high school honor roll, being selected to star in the play, making an athletic team or by immersing ourselves in some activity to satisfy that intrinsic desire to be recognized. As we reach adulthood, we continue to seek approval from others, including our family and coworkers but most of all, our bosses.

Recognition for a job well done is one of the most powerful motivators that contemporary law enforcement leaders can bestow upon the people they lead. And best of all, it costs nothing!

Recognition Promotes Greatness
Unlike private sector managers, law enforcement executives are very limited by the way we can reward our employees. Most of us do not have the resources or the ability to give financial or material rewards to our folks. Often, the greatest gift we police leaders can give is a pat on the back to recognize someone in our department who goes above and beyond our expectations.

Greatness is contagious – as is apathy. If we miss the opportunity to recognize when someone does a good job, we are missing a golden opportunity to reinforce what is important to us and our organization. When an employee underperforms or does not meet our expectations, we are quick to counsel or even punish them.

By praising our people when they do perform well, we are showing them that we have our finger on the pulse of the organization and that we are invested in their success and their contributions to the daily operation of the department.

Remember, nine times out of 10 the game is won by consistently doing the “routine” things well, not by hitting the ball out of the park. Let’s remember to recognize and reward the good things that our players do every single day to make every organization a winning one.

And remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” 

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