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One of the many things I enjoy about consulting with law enforcement agencies and facilitating assessment centers is the variety of innovation I see happening at those agencies. While the challenges and difficulties that agencies experience are often very similar, the approaches to addressing them are more often very different. While conducting one assessment center in a central Texas town, I kept hearing supervisors use the phrase “Courage to Confront.” I recalled that phrase from Tim Schneider’s “Leadwell – The Ten Competencies of Outstanding Leadership.” I asked one of the supervisors where he heard that phrase. The supervisor replied that the “Courage to Confront” is the mantra of the administrative staff. The phrase had really seemed to catch on in the organization so I had a discussion with the Assistant Chief about how he had gone about spreading this phrase, and the ideology behind it throughout the supervisory staff.
The Assistant Chief said that their number one issue in the department was supervisors holding their subordinates accountable. Similarly, those same supervisors lacked accountability in their responsibilities as well. At an annual supervisor retreat, he introduced his “3 C’s of Leadership: “Coaching, Correcting and the Courage to Confront” (I know you are thinking that’s 4 C’s, but Confront is the operative word, so we will stay with 3 C’s).
He defines coaching and correcting in bullet points, delineating the differences between the two. He identifies the purpose in each and the goals they are trying to reach. But the “Courage to Confront” encapsulates the essential skill needed to accomplish the other two.
In Schneider’s book, he discusses one of the main weaknesses of a supervisor is the desire to be liked by his subordinates. This desire is stronger in some supervisors more than others. Supervisors can mask their own weaknesses by allowing subordinates to get by with things that they shouldn’t. The “I won’t tell if you don’t tell” theory. In my brief stint overseeing the fire service, it was described to me as the “pass the ketchup” syndrome. At the end of the day, the shift fire captain or lieutenant has to sit down with the firefighters and ask for the ketchup to be passed at the evening meal. The environment can be tense when shifting from the supervisory relationship to enjoying a relaxed atmosphere around dinner. In other words, the captain spends much of the time in more of a peer setting (around the dinner table) rather than a supervisor/subordinate setting. This desire for harmony among the fire company can outweigh the need for the supervisor to hold employees accountable to departmental goals and objectives.
Inevitably, this leads to poor performance and poor accountability. It also leads to a lack of respect for the supervisor, which goes straight up the chain of command. The buck must stop somewhere and at some point, someone has to be the responsible supervisor, if accountability is to exist in an organization. The Assistant Chief is, thus, trying to push that accountability down to the first line supervisor by evoking the “Courage to Confront” mantra. That same courage must exist for the subordinate to confront his/her supervisor as well.
The Assistant Chief has added the phrase “Prepare to be Challenged” to Courage to Confront. If you have the courage to confront, be prepared to be challenged by your subordinates for holding up your responsibilities as well. But wait! Subordinates holding their supervisor accountable? Is that what he said? Absolutely! Police officers are expected to right wrongs they observe every day in the field. They are expected to confront infractions and misconduct as part of their regular job. Why should that end at the station door? Now obviously, one must use interpersonal skills and a healthy dose of tact when confronting one’s boss, but in a healthy environment, that should be welcomed by the chain of command. None of us are perfect and sometimes subordinates can see things the supervisor does not see. I was blessed in my career to have supervisors and subordinates who held me accountable. One must certainly pick his battles, but if it is important to address, one must have the “Courage to Confront” anyone to achieve the goals of the organization.
I have used this phrase when discussing leadership challenges in several departments. It has been very well received and I believe, when implemented throughout the organization, can make a significant difference in the accountability and productivity of personnel. This undoubtedly will lead to the organizational goals and objectives being accomplished and frankly, should make all our jobs easier and less stressful in the long run. Open a dialogue about having the “Courage to Confront” with your supervisor and subordinates. You might just be surprised at how well it is received.