To Protect AND Serve? Both Are Vital

unknownWe’ve all seen it. Many of us have driven squad cars with these prominent words displayed – “To Protect and to Serve” — even “America’s Finest.”

Most of us know what “to protect” means; protectors are guardians and not, necessarily warriors. To me, my career was to protect others. I was not at war with anyone – even the bad guys.

Yet what does it mean to “serve” others? For the two concepts are linked. Not just to protect others, but also to serve them. The two are one. For to protect is to serve.

Sometimes the idea of one being a servant is unsettling; “I’m not someone’s servant!” was often the response I heard when I first asked my colleagues about what “to serve” meant to them.

Years ago, it was Robert Greenleaf who helped me understand the importance of service and its link to leadership. It became an important part of what we in Madison called “Quality Leadership.”

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.

“The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible…” (my emphases).

As a young Marine, I knew that words mattered and needed to be quickly followed up with deeds. “Service to God and Country; Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful.” Your word should be your bond with those whom you lead (and serve).

One of the greatest leadership talks I’ve ever heard (along with what William Shakespeare has the king say in “Henry V” on St. Crispin’s Day before the battle against the French at Agincourt) was that given by Marine Commandant Al Gray in the early 90s at the U.S. Naval Academy to cadets who were considering becoming Marine officers.

General Gray told them that their “’number one’ job would be to care for the men and women they were privileged to lead!” To care for someone, to protect them is to serve. Serving is a noble cause and one for which police are especially aligned and positioned to accomplish.

We don’t just put TO PROTECT by itself on the doors of police cars, or on a badge, or post it in the police academy. No, we add TO SERVE. And we do it for a reason. We do it because that is the ultimate goal, the “number one” job in policing.

Those who have been chosen to be police officers are privileged to go out into their communities, day in and day out, in all kinds of weather, and in all kinds of conflicts and requests for their presence, and serve another human being eyeball to eyeball. That is not only a calling, but also a privilege.