Officer Wellness and Quality Leadership

Andy Rhodes and the Lancashire Constabulary about leadership and officer wellness.

imagesYears ago in Madison we developed the following leadership principles. It is a style of leadership that we deemed necessary for everyone to practice in order to continuously improve all that we do. It is strongly employee AND community oriented.

It was the new leadership then as it still is today. This is how a police leader is to lead in this century and especially today in re-building lost trust and support from many communities.


1. Believe in, foster, and support teamwork.

Teamwork is working together—working to solve crimes and conduct investigations, as well as to resolve problems that arise at work or in the community. It is helping each other, being one team. It is taking pride in our collective achievements. It is belief in the ability of the group over anyone’s individual effort—that is called synergy. We should try to do our work with teams whenever possible.

2. Be committed to the problem-solving process; use it and let data, not emotions, drive decisions.

Use the problem-solving process: Identify the nature and scope of the problem, seek a number of alternatives that will solve the problem, choose the most effective alternative, implement the chosen alternative, follow up on its implementation (correct, if necessary, to make it better). Too often we use our emotions or feelings to choose a course of action. This principle encourages the use of data, figures, information, and facts to drive that decision-making. Soliciting input isn’t data—it is necessary, but let’s not call it data. You should know the data tools: how to gather data, how to show it graphically, and how to look at variation of data. Let data do the talking. When employees ask for new things or new ways of doing things, encourage them to use data to support their recommendations—not use of power (We have all decided that…) or use of feelings (You know this is the better way of doing that…). Collecting data is using statistical tools to understand, bring into control, and correct a process. Using data will help our decision-making because we will be able to answer that extremely crucial question: How do we know this is true?

3. Seek employees’ input before you make key decisions.

This is a commitment to ask your employees about what the key decisions are in the workplace. They may be staffing levels, assignments, transfers, or taking time off. Whatever they may be, they are things that the employees feel are decisions on key matters—not things you or I think. The commitment is to ask before these decisions are made. It does not mean that you have to do what your employees believe you should do. (This is a very fundamental point in the principles: Our commitment is to input. We may, in fact, do what our employees want; or we may choose to delegate to them our authority to make the decision; or we may simply take their input under advisement; but we promise to ask them before we make the key decisions.) Key decisions are those that affect the three to five things that are essential to workplace satisfaction as defined byemployees. They may be determined either by individuals or by groups of employees. Key decisions should be discussed and an agreement reached as to what constitutes these key decision areas. Leaders should then agree to ask for employee input on these key decision areas before they make any decisions regarding them. Employee input does not mean decision-making by taking a vote without group discussion. It is the power of group discussion, hearing everyone’s point of view, understanding and deliberating on what has been discussed, that makes group decision-making far more effective than one person’s decision or a group of individuals voting on solutions without discussion. When employee input is requested, it should be clear at the beginning of the process how the decision will be made and who will make it.

4. Believe that the best way to improve the quality of work or service is to ask and listen to employees who are doing the work.

As supervisors and managers we don’t do the front-line work. We depend on others to do the job of responding directly to the customers, the citizens of our city. It has been a long time since most of us have performed this job. Therefore, we depend on the men and women who do this job to tell us what they need to do get the job done. As bosses, one of the most fundamental things we can do for our employees is to ask them what they need and listen to what they have to say. Listening is the difficult part for those of us who have spent years learning how to tell people what to do. Active listening is a skill that can be learned and developed. Using the inquiry process, which is about asking the right questions, is also a skill that can be learned. Quality leaders refrain from telling; they ask the right questions: How do you know that? What have you learned through this effort? What kind of help do you need from me? The power of this is that an individual comes to his or her own solution with the help—not the direction—of the leader. Listening and questioning are crucial skills to develop as a supervisor or manager. Employees want bosses who are willing to listen, and we need employees who will honestly tell us about what’s going on.

5. Strive to develop mutual respect and trust among employees.

How do we develop respect and trust in the workplace? One of the keys is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. People want to be respected and trusted. Bosses who show respect and trust have respected and trusted employees. We must come to the workplace with the basic belief that our employees deserve respect and can be trusted—that’s why we hired them in the first place. For example, when checking out a complaint regarding an employee, there are ways to do it that may not compromise the respect and trust of the individual involved. In many cases, our attitudes have a more lasting impact than our words or the processes we use. Our employees have a right to know what’s going on, when the process has been completed, and what our findings are. In every case, except those in which a serious offense has occurred, we want to correct and rehabilitate employees and get them back to duty. We must all be committed to driving fear out of our workplace.

6. Have a customer orientation and focus toward employees and citizens.

A customer orientation and focus means that we listen to our customers. Customers may be citizens, elected officials, employees, or interest groups. As supervisors and managers, we have as direct customers our employees, who provide service to their customers, the citizens and taxpayers. Listening and being responsive to citizens is our ultimate goal. There are, of course, a number of parameters—the law, ethics, and budgetary constraints. In this new era of community policing, listening to the customer is a vital part of the job. It is a change. Professionals today don’t have the exclusive market anymore of knowing what is best for their patients, clients, or customers. Today, people want to be heard and participate.

7. Manage the behavior of 95 percent of employees and not the 5 percent who cause problems. Deal with the 5 percent promptly and fairly.

This is a fundamental principle regarding people. It should help us to look at how we view our employees. Do we believe that they can be trusted, are mature adults, and want to do a good job? Or do we believe that they are untrustworthy, immature, and want to avoid work? This principle causes some supervisors and managers a great deal of difficulty. They have trouble accepting the notion that they should trust their employees. Let’s look at how many of your employees are in the first group and how many are in the second. We believe 95 percent of our employees fall into the first group and 5 percent or fewer fall into the second group. For too long, the actions of the 5 percent have dictated the rules and policies and how the organization is run. We believe that the actions of the 5 percent shouldn’t dictate how the rest of the employees are treated in the workplace. Five-percenters should be responded to in a prompt and fair way. Rules shouldn’t be written based on the behavior of the 5 percent, nor should the department be run as if all employees were in the 5 percent group. The 5 percent must, however, be dealt with and not ignored. We have all heard a great deal about the need for consistency and fairness in the disciplinary process. Being fair is more important.

8. Improve systems and examine processes before placing blame on people.

Continually monitor the systems you are responsible for to enhance them and, ultimately, the quality of the output. Leaders have responsibility for the performance of systems—this is creative and valuable work. In the past, we have emphasized that the job of a manager was to watch over, maintain, and inspect systems. No more. Our job today is to enrich these systems—continually, incessantly, and forever. If we see our job as inspecting systems, we can be replaced by a machine—a computer. Our employees also see that kind of work as being not essential or necessary. If we see our job as the improvement of systems, we cannot be replaced by a machine—only creative and caring people can do this kind of work, and our employees know it. This is also a good human behavior rule. People don’t like to fail. When they do, it is wise to look at systems first. Only after systems are examined is it fair and safe to examine how people may have failed. We should be trying to get at the root of the problem, not attempting to fix blame on an individual. If a system is out of control, it is only a matter of time before the next employee gets in trouble. The solution is to fix the system. Leaders work on the system; employees work in the system. Standards need to be set, feedback given, and control limits established. There will be variation in performance, but it should be within the established upper and lower control limits. Variation is a fact of life and to be expected. Those who fall below acceptable performance shouldn’t be punished. Our job is to ascertain what they need from us—training, encouragement, support, feedback—in order to get them into the range of acceptable work performance.

9. Avoid top-down power-oriented decision-making whenever possible.

We should avoid the use of coercive power whenever possible. When we use it we should remember that we all pay a cost in its exercise—giver and receiver. The finest decisions are those in which we all participate and concur. The next are those decisions in which everyone is asked for their input before something is decided. Of course, we will have occasional no discussion decisions in our work. When we do, we should make a commitment to our employees that we agree to critique those decisions whenever possible. Tom Gordon, in his book Leader Effectiveness Training, illustrates the costs to leaders who use coercive power to get the job done: costs of time, enforcement, alienation, stress, and diminishing influence. There is also the cost of making a less-than-quality decision, because communication between employees and leaders who use coercive power is greatly reduced.

10. Encourage creativity through risk-taking, and be tolerant of honest mistakes.

We will never get creativity and innovation from our employees when we tell them they cannot make mistakes. All that we know about people tells us that creativity is chilled and repressed in such an environment. It isn’t easy to accept honest mistakes. The price we pay for zero defects, however, is zero creativity. Many of us have been working together for many years. We all remember each other’s mistakes and failures. Without forgiving and forgetting, we will never be comfortable in the workplace.

If we don’t permit honest mistakes, new ways and ideas will never be tried. It’s simply too risky in an authoritarian organization. Quality and creativity is the result of a constant process of trying and improving.

11. Be a facilitator and coach. Develop an open atmosphere that encourages providing and accepting feedback.

A leader’s job today is different. It is challenging and gives us opportunities for personal growth because it offers so many new options. Being an effective quality leader means being a coach, a teacher, student, role model, and, most significant, a champion of the new philosophy. We are in the business of helping people develop and experience personal growth. Our employees’ goal is to deliver a quality service to our citizens by being responsive and sensitive to those citizens’ needs. We can model this behavior by being responsive and sensitive to our employees’ needs. All this can only be accomplished in an atmosphere of trust, honesty, and openness. Part of this process is honest feedback. An honest feedback system is essential for the creation of a quality organization. Feedback is for the receiver. It isn’t designed to make the giver feel better by venting. Venting is sometimes necessary, but don’t mistake it for feedback. Leaders have consistency of purpose—a vision as to where they are going. Leaders develop the competence of their people. They are committed. Their employees know where they stand.

12. Use teamwork to develop agreed-upon goals with employees, and a plan to achieve them.

This principle tries to capture the importance of progress and moving forward as a team. We plan where we are going and establish agreed-upon ways to achieve that goal with input from and discussion with our employees. We help create a vision. Our job is then to align that vision with our practices. We can do that by coaching our employees toward excellence—not by trying to control them. Long-term goals are essential to the performance of a quality organization. Once goals are set, it is critical for leaders to follow up and—at least weekly, if not daily—to coach employees to success. There is a technique used to achieve maximum performance from individuals, frequently adopted by athletes who want to capture world records. It is called visioning—mentally picturing you, yourself, achieving something. For example: jumping higher or running faster or farther than you ever have before. Organizations need to create similar visions and plan accordingly.

From The New Quality Leadership Workbook for Police (2015) to analyze and improve your leadership style. Order HERE.


  1. Great video. Funny how police officers are supposed to have excellent communications skills; however, not only do they do not have it with the community they serve but also with their own officers considering the fact that these managers were once rank and file themselves.


    1. Not just police, Gunther. This wonder goes just about to all hierarchical organizations. People simply do not know how to communicate with one another. And the higher the rank, the more the difficulty!


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